Kenyatta University Vice Chancellor Prof Paul Wainaina says the public institution is undergoing a financial crisis.
The second largest university in the country is owes Sh1 billion for workers' pension.
Prof Wainaina says the university has also not been deducting and remitting saccos funds from their workers’ salaries to different financial institutions due to severe cash crunch.
“We are not getting enough money. We can only pay net [salaries], because there was no cash that was given by the government for pension and there is no money that was given to actually service those cooperative societies. We don’t have enough capitation,” Prof Wainaina said.
The don has called for government’s support to pay the arrears.
So far KU has shut down three campuses -- Nyeri, Kericho and one in Rwanda as it grapples with financial challenges.
The institution which had 75,000 students current has 60,000 in undergraduate, postgraduate and few diplomas.
The VC says they have a few self-sponsored students. Most of their students are teachers who join the universities in April, August and some May.
“But the number is very low. The situation even financially for students is becoming very difficult, if we lack students we feel we may have to close some programmes because we end up using more facilities, including water, electricity and then we don’t get anything,” added Prof Wainaina.
Unless the university gets more self-sponsored students, the VC says it may be difficult to address the challenges.
“Why have universities been having problems?” Prof Wainaina asked.
In an interview in Mombasa, the KU vice chancellor said the crisis began at the end of 1990s when the government was finding it very difficult to finance universities.
He said the universities decided to open their doors to students who had qualified to join the institutions but were not on government sponsorship.
Thus, began the parallel programmes for self-sponsored students to ‘help’ universities get financial muscles.
“It would also help the students who did not have an opportunity even when they were having minimum qualification. For KU, the first cohort was 2003,” the don said.
Prof Wainaina said the public universities were able to generate most of its funds this way. In 2008, for instance, KU was able to meet 60 percent of its Sh1.8 billion budget, he added. But in 2016 the budget had risen to Sh6.1 billion with the government still giving a capitation of about 40 percent, he said.
“The universities were able to sustain themselves and get something small from the government. However, the government did not give us all the money that was in the budget,” added Prof Wainaina.
In 2017, the don said, the situation changed after secondary school students performed dismally. The students who were admitted to universities were government sponsored.
“The universities did not receive the students who were bringing in the money. This affected our finances but the government was not able to chip in. That was one of the major reason that some of our programmes were greatly affected,” the don added.
The same year, there was a major strike after the government failed to reach a collective bargaining agreement with varsity staff.
“They were unable to give us money, therefore the staff unions decided to go on a strike. It was a long strike, we had students in the campuses but nobody to teach them, which means they were using the facilities, we were paying for water, accommodation, electricity and yet no classes were taking place,” the don explained.
After the strike, the students resumed to the universities without paying any fees. For KU, the students were taken through one semester without paying any fees.
“It took a toll on our finances,” the VC said.
After negotiations between the union and the government, Prof Wainaina said the state was unable to pay the money.
The universities have not been able to meet statutory payments including taxes, he added.
“In other words, the CBA was signed four years after it was supposed to have been effected. So what was agreed… there was a lot of arrears in terms of pension and insurance. We were not able to pay our dues in pension, in Kenya Revenue Authority...,” added the don.
“All those things took a toll on the big universities that is why we have financial problems. But management and council are trying to find how we can operate,” the don added.
Universities such as KU have been forced to closed down some campuses to cut costs.
“It is very bad for universities to have workers who are going to retire and yet we have no pension for them. We have a hotel in Mombasa, it is making some money but not enough. We had requested about Sh6 billion for our budget,” added the VC.
The professor urged the Ministry of Education to allow universities to teach some of the key diplomas to get more students to sustain the institutions.
The National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich announced plans to restructure higher education that will see some of the 32 public universities merged and satellite campuses closed.
The mergers will see some of the 27,000 staff in public universities, including 9,000 lecturers, rendered jobless.
The universities have been unable to pay Sh9 billion in statutory deductions and another Sh9 billion in pensions.
Those that have shut some of their campuses include KU, Kisii, Laikipia, Moi, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya Methodist University, Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA) and University of Baraton.
- Additional reporting by Ouma Wanzala