Several public universities have been operating for far too long without substantive vice-chancellors, hampering proper management.
Last week, outgoing Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i selected five heads of various universities, but left several others.
The most pronounced case is that of Moi University, where Prof Laban Ayiro has been acting VC for more than a year because vested political and ethnic interests have jeopardised his chances.
Arising from a bad past, the Universities Act (2012) was crafted to create order in the management of higher education institutions.
Previously, they suffered from intrusive politics, where top managers were picked by the political elite, which meant subservience to them.
While universities are expected to be autonomous, they ceased to be, and with serious implications on academic freedom, innovation and excellence.
Paradoxically, despite a relatively robust law that puts emphasis on competitive and transparent recruitment, some politicians and their acolytes are determined to influence the management of universities.
They use informal but strong networks and create obstacles to still the normal processes and get their way.
This undermines effective management.
Public universities have suffered and a part of the problem is poor leadership.
Reforms to revitalise the institutions encompass change in governance; universities require progressive, visionary and independent-minded managers.
At this time of declining enrolment and reduced funding, universities must explore ingenious ways to resource themselves, and offer quality education and training to compete effectively at the regional and international levels. Quality leadership is a must.
New Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed should quickly fill the vacant positions in the public universities, not only the VC positions, but also chairs and members of councils.
Where necessary, she ought to initiate fresh recruitment and ensure merit and transparency.
Universities, as pedestals of knowledge and research, require top-notch leaders not political sycophants.