Rwanda: Private Varsities Urged to Alter Funding Model

3 December 2020

A combination of mismanagement and financial constraints characterized by overly relying on tuition fees for funding have been cited as the major cause of closure of local private universities.

The Covid-19 outbreak, according to industry experts, has also aggravated the financial position of private universities, which were already competing in a cutthroat market with few students.

Last month, KIM University became the latest among a host of private universities that have closed their operations in the recent past.

The move came nearly three months after the Ministry of Education shut down three other private universities, citing quality issues. The institutions include University of Kibungo (UNIK) and Indangaburezi College of Education (ICE).

Also closed down is the Christian University of Rwanda (CHUR), whose proprietor, former Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi was sentenced to a three-year jail term and fined Rwf892.2 million for being convicted of issuing bounced cheques.

Data from the Ministry of Education indicates that there are 25 higher learning institutions in the country, of which 12 are privately owned.

However, despite the rise in the number of private universities, the rate at which they close has become the subject of public concern, triggering debate on the prospects about their future prospects.

According to Nathalie Munyampenda, Kepler University Director, one of the problems faced by the majority of locally private owned universities is the lack of sustainable business models that are resilient to unprecedented events.

"With Covid-19 and the encouragement to go online (blended), universities weren't able to charge tuition and so operations halted. The other issue of course is the heavy infrastructure costs that have been required," she said.

Munyampenda pointed out that a lot of Universities struggle with governance issues.

"University management should be focused on bringing in revenue and providing strategic direction but often university leaders are professors who are great as the subject experts but have no executive management experience."

"As well, given the financial imperatives, university leaders often sacrifice good teaching staff and career services which is what makes a good university and lead to collapse."

Former Minister of Education, Prof Silas Lwakabamba, attributed the challenges to the fact that most universities depend on tuition fees which later make it impossible to run the institution.

"The first problem is that they are too many. And they are competing for students. And because they mostly depend on the fees from the students, they end up running a low quality type of institution."

Additionally, he said that the majority of the owners deny the institution's administrators power to make any decisions.

"Sometimes you find that the owners interfere in the management of an institution, this makes it hard for you as an expert who understands how to run an institution to take any proper decision"

Lwakabamba, who is also a former board of director of the defunct shut-down, UNIK University revealed that there is an issue of corruption especially among the owners.

"Inconsistent boards. Some of them will bring their relatives who don't even have expertise in education. You really can't have a sustainable institution for that".

Charles Murigande, an academician, observed that most locally owned private universities are burdened with lack of financial resources.

He explained that financial resources create a conducive environment to be able to deliver quality education, hence producing graduates that are ready for the job market.

"Thus students are not ready to invest in buying an education that would not make them employable," he stressed. "It's a kind of a chicken and egg problem."

Those who start private universities are counting on tuition to run them and build their quality but at the same time making profit, Murigande added.

"They find themselves in a situation where the tuition they charge and the number of students they attract is such that they can barely operate a university of a poor quality let alone make profit from them."

Lwakabamba reiterated that lack of resources will lead to employing unqualified teachers.

"Because you don't have resources you can't recruit good teachers. You have got to depend on fairly unqualified teachers."

Another issue, he added, is the fact that the government only supports public institutions.

"If you go to other countries like Kenya, Tanzania or anywhere they put up a fund which attracts competition from both the public and private higher learning institutions, said Lwakabamba."

He added that locally owned private institutions don't have an opportunity to mobilize funds from donors with the support of the government.

"The government doesn't support these institutions. And you need quality. Because at the end of the day you are training Rwandans. And without such grants, some of these private institutions are going to be in trouble".

"Obviously the government is right to close down an institution, I totally support it, but they should not allow such institutions to continue, I think we should not look at one side, we should also look at the inputs, how the government can assist to have inputs into those institutions," he said.

Rose Mukankomeje, Executive Director of Higher Education Council, says that the recent permanent closure was a result of the inability to provide quality education and also financial instabilities.

"As we reopen schools during this period of Covid-19, only schools financially stable, are allowed to reopen. And more emphasis will be put on enhancing the quality of education," she said.

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