Economy Education higher education

How corruption, tribalism, and nepotism is killing public universities

Students of Moi university go home after the university was shut down due to insolvency. image/courtesy

Reports of the collapse of Moi Universities due to an accumulated debt caught Kenyans by surprise. And for several days, Kenyans on Social media were all talk with fears over the fall of one of the oldest public universities in Kenya, named in honor of the late president Daniel T. Moi

But unknown to many, most public universities in Kenya are surviving on borrowed time, with most of these institutions barely able to pay staff salaries or even submit staff deductions to the relevant institutions. A few days ago, reports emerged that Kenyatta University and the University of Nairobi were facing insolvency due to accumulating debts.

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This followed further reports a couple of weeks ago from the media about the freezing of Kenyatta University bank accounts by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) over failure to submit staff remittances. This is even as rumors that the institution was unable to service its loans amounting to Ksh. 1.5 billion and that the university was technically insolvent.

Over the years, media reports have hidden the true picture of the dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over the operations of almost all public universities with most of them accumulating billions of shillings in loans that they cannot afford to repay. The media knows this well, but they will never air it to the public as they depend on these universities for advertisements and bribes.

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The debts owed to part-time lecturers

Part-time lecturers remain the most affected employees in the ongoing swindling, theft, and corruption in Kenyan Universities. Imagine a case whereby you work and it takes 6 years to receive your pay? That is the reality of being a part-time lecturer in Kenya who in some of these institutions were lastly paid in 2014. So dire is the situation that apart from where individuals are well connected with accounting staff and with a promise to part with a given percentage of your pay, part-time lecturers in almost all public universities are never paid. The most Notorious of these institutions according to credible reports are Technical University of Kenya (TUK), Dedan Kimathi University, Karatina University, JKUAT, University of Kabianga, Egerton University, Murang’a University of Technology, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenyatta University, Moi University, Maasai Maara University among others. These universities owe part-time lecturers money that runs into years, in most cases, the lecturers are forced to forfeit their pay after years of fighting to get their money yielded no result. In some cases, some of these universities have been accused of blacklisting part-time lecturers who become so adamant in their demands and hire fresh graduates desperate for jobs who within no time learn that they are offering free services with no hope of future payment and opportunities.

When it comes to payments of part-time lecturers, Private universities are no better: most notorious being Mount Kenya University and KEMU. Even other private universities that were known to promptly pay their part-time lecturers on time such as St. Pauls University have fallen into the debt trap of using part-time lecturers for no pay. In one of the cases, one of the leading private universities in Kenya sacked all part-time lecturers when they demanded the pay that had accumulated over the years and blocked them permanently from accessing the institution via the gate pass. With that, most of them had to give up the chase and hope that some day a miracle would happen and they would be paid for their services. The university went ahead and combined diploma and degree students in the same lectures and in some cases combined first-year students and second-year students in trying to cut costs.

Vice-chancellors and University councils

The big question is, how do public universities get into this huge debts? Some of the most corrupt and tribal institutions remain public universities. The biggest cause of the continuous rundown of public varsities has been misuse of finances by the VCs and the University council. On University council, most public varsities are today micro-managed by university councils. the University council members are never paid salaries but huge sitting allowances for every sitting. The university council is supposed to sit on rare occasions and just a couple of times a year. However, to draw more money, the councils today hold frequent meetings including several times a week and thus end up drawing huge allowances monthly from universities.

According to our sources who are highly placed within some local universities, Once Government funding gets into the university accounts, plans on how to misuse the meagre resources are already in top gear. It should be noted that though legal, one of the most misused ways of stealing from the universities has been through university projects. Every VC is entitled to 10% pay for the value of every government project that they supervise. This means tht if a VC establishes the construction of a building worth Ksh. 250 million, he is paid by the university Ksh. 25 million for supervising the project. Apart from that, most of these projects costs are exorbitantly high, a scheme used by most vice-chancellors with kickbacks coming from the contractors. I experienced this personally when a certain TVET institution bought a MIS from a local IT firm worth 5 Million for Ksh. 15 Million, yet 5 million of this was a kickback for the Principal.

The Vcs position is one of the most senior posts in Kenya, at the same level as cabinet secretaries. Most Universities fund private trips by their VCs including giving them per diem, fueling their cars when they travel to their homes, pay personal visits including burials and such. and with their positions as well as considering that they are the senior-most employees in universities, no DVC finance can turn down their request for funds. And with that, vice-chancellors become the weakest link ti the financial health of public Universities.

The requirement of VCs for qualification for the job is also purely academic, thus, even a professor who cannot successfully run a village kiosk or who has no business management experience can be given the job. and most of the VCs in Kenya fall under that category. How do you expect a person who has no management capability to lead a university and make it profitable or at least self-sustaining? Thus, perhaps its time the government considered having a non academic CEO run universities, the VC can handle academic matters.

Tribalism and Nepotism

Tribalism and nepotism run in every university in Kenya. To explain this, there are allegations that suspended Maasai Maara University VC Prof. Mary Walingo who was the principal at Muranga University college before he was promoted to VC at Maasai Maara University employed his two sons, Sister and her brother’s wife at Muranga university during her tenure. Cleary, four family members employed in the same University by their blood relative should have raised issues even with the interviewing panel before her promotion to the VC.

In these universities, merit does not matter, as they say, it doesn’t matter what you know but who you know. The current DVC ASA in Maasai Maara University, Prof. Godrick Bulitia presents a good case of how rogue university administration have messed up Kenyan University education system. Prof. Bulutia was an assistant lecturer at Masinde Muliro University and Kaimosi friends university at the same level which is grade 11. Prof. Mary Walingo brought him to Muranga University and moved him from grade 11 to grade 15 and made him the registrar of Muranga University even without the minimum qualification because he didnt even posess a PhD then. He served as a registrar Administration, planning and finance and got his PhD around 2015. After a short while, theMuranga University organized an interview for associate professor for him and decided to convert him from a non-academic staff to academic staff with a weak excuse that he had worked for long and done too much work, which did not even meet the criteria set out by CUE for promotion to a professorship. With that, he irregularly was promoted to an associate professor. After a few months, Maasai Maara University (where his benefactor was now the VC) adversized for DVC positions, where the guy was elevated by the VC to a DVC with zero qualifications as an academic staff. This is not the only case of how Universities work, it is all corruption at every level.

With this, it is easy to conclude where the rain started beating us, but truth be said: President Kibaki championed for establishment of universities, and before Kibaki exited, most of these universities were stable, what happened under Jubilee? It is claimed that the move by gvernment to use public funds to send government sponsored students to private universities to protect them from collapsing dealt a major blow to the survival of public universities? Ho do you use public resources to advance the profiteering of private businesses? And even worse, when public Universities have the capacity to absorb these numbers?