Tough times await public universities as the government moves to reform the sector it says has been riddled with financial mismanagement and poor governance.
The second phase of the reforms of the sector, which started in February, will see thousands of teaching and non-teaching staff put on contract, a number of them retrenched, a freeze in setting up satellite campuses, and development of a single payroll system, among other changes.
The radical reforms were unveiled on Wednesday by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i at a meeting attended by vice-chancellors and council chairpersons of the 31 public universities at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies in Nairobi.
However, the universities management questioned the motive of the reforms, saying some of them cannot be hurriedly rolled out without appropriate consultation.
Kisii University VC John Akama said the proposals need to be interrogated further, noting that the government should not be preoccupied with financial mismanagement yet the universities are struggling to remain afloat.
Prof Akama said a critical issue such as the lecturers' strike that started on November 1 had been ignored by the ministry yet it is important as learning is not going on at the institutions.
"No one is talking about the lecturers' strike. We cannot talk about quality education when we have no resources. The issue of funding of public universities should be properly interrogated," said Prof Akama.
The chairman of the Vice-Chancellors Committee, Prof Francis Aduol, said there is need to revisit some of the policies that are being developed by the government regarding universities.
"We should not rush these reforms. As vice-chancellors, we will look at the proposals and make our recommendations," said Prof Aduol, who is also the VC of the Technical University of Kenya.
The government has frozen the establishment of satellite campuses across the country, a move it believes will allow universities to expand existing campuses.
The establishment of satellite campuses was aimed at tapping into Kenya's growing population that is thirsty for education.
The government is proposing the employment of staff at two levels -- contract as well as permanent and pensionable. The proposal is set to be effected next year.
The move is aimed at weeding out staff who do not work yet earn salaries and are assured of pension.
The decision will prompt the institutions to allocate funds for retrenchment.
"We must get rid of staff who only teach one lesson and use the rest of the time to do their own business.
"We cannot have a cleaner on permanent terms. We must get out of this obsession with permanent and pensionable terms," said Dr Matiang'i.
Putting staff on a single payroll will also affect the institutions since those with parallel programmes need lecturers to teach the students.
"Lecturers are supposed to teach for eight hours. After that, it is extra work. If we do not want to pay them, then we must collapse self-sponsored programmes into regular," said a senior lecturer.
The decision to demand self- sponsored students' funds from universities could complicate the matter as the cash is normally used to finance development projects.
"You cannot collect money, give it to the government and expect it to wire back the same cash for development.
"The government should keep off and allow these institutions, which are independent, to run their affairs," said Universities Academic Staff Union secretary-general Constantine Wasonga.