Cut staff to beat cash crunch, Magoha tells universities

Friday July 31 2020

Education Cabinet Secretary prof George Magoha with Egerton University's Vice-Chancellor Rose Mwonya during its 42nd graduation ceremony at the main campus in Njoro, Nakuru County on July 31, 2020. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Mass layoffs are likely in Kenya’s 78 public universities ahead of their reopening in 2021, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha Friday told vice-chancellors to start planning how to relieve non-core and other excess staff of their duties in order to survive the cash crunch.

And unlike in the past, when the government initiated the layoffs, the CS gave the VCs permission to reduce their human resource.

“Just like in the international arena, 70 per cent of staff should be academic staff and 30 per cent non-teaching staff,” he noted, and told the VCs not to wait for the Ministry of Education to tell them how to run the institutions.

“If VCs and councils decide to create more management positions, there will be financial implications which may not be necessary, They must consult the Treasury and assure the government it is viable and sustainable. This idea of employment without consulting the government has to stop,” said the CS.

You must have the right size of staff because the government is like God. It helps those who help themselves.”


He spoke during the 42nd graduation ceremony by Egerton University in Njoro, Nakuru County, which took place virtually.


Egerton VC Rose Mwonya had requested the CS to help the university overcome its financial crisis that has seen it slash staff salaries by 40 per cent.

The CS told her, “These are things you can do with your council and under the guidance of the chancellor, if you are listening to him. He is one of the best industrialists. If you want to know how to do business, he should tell you.”

Prof Magoha described the financial unsustainability of public universities as one of the main bottlenecks in reorganising them.

“Professors managing public universities are the biggest stumbling blocks in reforming the higher education sector in Kenya. President Uhuru Kenyatta gave me the first directive of reforming universities but I must say it is one of the most difficult challenges because professors are very difficult people to deal with, me being one of them. They don’t see why one should tell them anything because they think they know everything.”

He added: “Unless these professors identify their challenges, there will be problems and we shall continue to have problems in public universities.”

He said all universities cannot be the same so they must identify their areas of strength and capitalise on them.

“Egerton’s area of strength is agriculture [so don’t tell me] you can’t survive. You’re teaching agriculture people and you have the land. Do you want to go to Israel and get people to do it for you? I don’t have any sympathetic words,” he said.

He added, “I am not addressing Egerton University alone. This message is to all the public universities in Kenya. They should identify their areas of strength and concentrate on them, while leveraging on what they have. Egerton should be supplying towns with food. I don’t see anything produced from Egerton University. Instead I see only wananchi on the road. What do you want to take pride in?  Egerton is our agriculture jewel.”


The CS further told university managers to crack the whip on lazy staff.

“Either they perform or leave. If it worked while I was a VC at University of Nairobi, why can’t it work here at Egerton or at any other public university?”

Prof Magoha further noted that Egerton is blessed with many qualified staff, who should be trained on how to write good proposals to attract donor-funding instead of waiting for the National Research Fund to give them funds.

“Egerton cannot afford to falter. You have land and good facilities that could be utilised to sustain the university.”

If the public universities are not prepared to change, they must prepare to die, he said.


On Covid-19, the CS encouraged universities to pick up online training, noting that a sizable number, or about 70 per cent, have robust programmes.

“I am happy with Prof Mwonya for telling us the truth - that before the Covid-19 era she was among those not very serious with online learning. That is the new normal and we must embrace it because the pandemic is probably going to stay here for a long time since it came abruptly. We must find a way to exist.”

The CS further said the government Is looking into ways to assist learners without access to online systems so they can finish their courses.

He said institutions of higher learning will be reopened next year as they have been complacent in Covid-19 prevention.

“We are of the opinion that the lives of our young children are far more important than the degrees they are going to get. Covid-19 cases are increasing so the government is not going to risk the lives of thousands of students, he said.

Additional reporting by Phyllis Musasia