Sixteen out of 31 public universities are in a deep financial crisis, raising questions about the quality of education they are offering, it emerged Tuesday.
The vice chancellors committee chairman Francis Aduol said the institutions are unable to meet the basic salary needs of their workers and other obligations and that they require immediate intervention.
"Universities have huge financial challenges. We are unable to pay statutory deductions to the National Hospital Insurance Fund, National Social Security Fund and the Kenya Revenue Authority," he told the National Assembly's Education committee and asked for a bailout to prevent the institutions from collapsing.
Prof Aduol said public universities had turned to part-time lecturers to reduce the wage bill but are still unable to pay them since 2014.
The issue has been worsened by a cut in Government funding to universities, he said, adding that the institutions were desperate.
"We are worried about the quality of education since going for part-time lecturers hurts standards," Prof Aduol told the committee while responding to a petition filed by Universities Academic staff Union (Uasu) over the ongoing lecturers strike.
As he addressed the MPs, workers in Rongo and Kisii Universities were protesting delays in paying their salaries for February while those at the University of Nairobi started receiving theirs Tuesday.
Government delays in releasing funds have pushed universities to taking bank overdrafts to pay salaries for the more 27,000 workers, said Prof Aduol.
He said universities are unable to pay pension amounting to Sh3.6 billion for staff who have retired since 2010 because Treasury has not released the funds.
"We are unable to complete internal Collective Bargaining Agreements for universities since most of the institutions cannot afford committing themselves to new salary deals," he added.
The Universities Academic Staff Union Secretary General Constantine Wasonga told the committee that most part-time lecturers were holding on to students' examination scripts because they have not been paid.
"That is why we have unending problem of missing marks," said Dr Wasonga, who asked the committee to set up a special team to investigate financial mismanagement in the institutions.
He said Egerton University was yet to remit Sh122 million to its own co-operative society and Sh127 million to the pension scheme, while Moi University was holding Sh598 million for pension and Sh117 million for the provident fund.
Dr Wasonga said medical insurance schemes in all public universities have collapsed and lecturers are being turned away from hospitals.
MPs Geoffrey Odanga (Matayos) and Julius Melly (Tinderet) asked universities to address the issue of the lecturers' strike seriously to safeguard the quality of education.
"It is sad that we have had four strikes within a year," said Mr Odanga.
The institutions are currently putting up infrastructure projects estimated at Sh67 billion and so far they have spent Sh20 billion.
Education Principal Secretary Bellio Kipsang' recently told the committee that in the financial year starting July, the institutions will get Sh99 billion with Sh12 billion being reserved for development projects.
Last year, Auditor-General Edward Ouko said 11 public universities were technically insolvent and could not meet their financial obligations.
They are Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Technical University of Kenya, the University of Nairobi, Laikipia University, Machakos University College and Masinde Muliro University.
Others are Multimedia University, Murang'a University, Embu University, Pwani University and the University of Eldoret.
"Our audit of public universities during the year to June 2015 revealed that 11 of them were facing serious liquidity challenges, a position that is worsened by the fact that their current liabilities exceed their current assets," said Mr Ouko.
The audit also found that the universities have several stalled multi-billion shilling construction works, including new lecture rooms, office blocks and hostels.