The decision by the University of Nairobi to scrap the agency that runs its parallel degree programmes points to a sea change in the fortunes of higher institutions of learning.
Ever since the then-Cabinet Secretary, Dr Fred Matiang’i, now in charge of Interior, overhauled the Kenya National Examinations Council in 2016, sealing cheating loopholes in national tests, the number of students qualifying for university admission has shrunk inexorably, leaving many universities struggling to keep afloat as revenues from parallel degree programmes diminished.
Since then, fewer than 100,000 out of about 600,000 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education candidates have managed a C+ and above to qualify for university places each year.
Previously, more than 150,000 made the cut each year. Because of the shrinking number of students joining university, a majority of the institutions, which mainly depend on tuition fees, are struggling.
No wonder, then, that the university, Kenya’s biggest and oldest, has found it necessary to scrap the Centre for Self-Sponsored Programmes, which manages revenues generated from the privately sponsored students.
Obviously, the UoN found the centre unsustainable and uneconomical to run due to reduced numbers. Other public universities are expected to follow suit.
While it is prudent and judicious of universities to introduce austerity measures for fiscal discipline and efficiency in management, they must break away from overdependence on fees from local students and devise innovative income streams.
Kenya’s universities stand out in the region for their infrastructural strength, quality of faculty and sheer numbers and they ought to capitalise on these to tap into the demand for higher education across the borders.
International students can easily breathe life into the Module II programmes and, hence, their financial health.
The universities must also reach out to their alumni and private companies to support them through, for instance, financial contributions, building facilities, supporting needy students and funding research.
Such support, if utilised wisely, would make the institutions more stable, vibrant and robust.
Reputable universities in the West have a substantial portion of their budgets supported by alumni. In Kenya, universities generally do not keep track of their graduates and are, hence, not in contact with them.
As the universities transform the way they operate following government demands for more efficiency, they must find ways of marketing their brands more aggressively, especially across the borders to attract international students, and also pursue partnerships and research grants to boost finances to thrive.