Universities brace for Workforce Review and job cuts

The Kenyan government has kicked off a fresh round of audits of state universities which will see campus closures, prosecution of top managers in defaulting institutions, massive job cuts and a radical change in the conditions of service for lower-level and non-teaching staff.

Announcing the far-reaching review, the country’s Education Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i said the first phase of audit which started earlier this year had highlighted deep-rooted challenges which are hurting the quality of learning in higher learning institutions.

The first phase of the purge looked at the structure of university programmes, modes of delivery, availability of academic resources for implementation of programmes, modes of assessment, learning environments, learning facilities as well as extra-curricular activities.

According to the cabinet secretary, the uncontrolled mushrooming of higher education institutions in the past 10 years had compromised standards and there was a need to clean up the system.

The second phase of the audit, which sets in immediately, the education boss said, will be four-pronged and is expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2018.

First, all public universities will be required to conduct a workforce review to rid universities of non-core staff, effectively cutting growing wage bills. As a result, universities will no longer be allowed to hire lower-cadre teaching and non-teaching staff on a permanent basis. Only employees on the level of and above senior lecturer will be hired on a permanent basis with pension benefits.

This will involve the sacking of all non-crucial university staff, which will substantially alter the ratio of teaching to non-teaching staff, which the government estimates to be as high as 1:40. The cabinet secretary has, for example, given three newly sanctioned universities – Technical University of Kenya, Technical University of Mombasa and Murang’a University of Technology – six months to reduce their staff complement by cutting the number of non-core employees.

A 2016 audit report by the government showed that universities were living beyond their means, facing a budget deficit of over US$100 million and spending more than 85% of their funds on recurrent expenditure, largely salaries.

Secondly, universities will be expected to reduce their over-reliance on part-time tutors and instead rely on their permanently employed lecturers. This will also see the institutions forced to specialise in specific courses to curb duplication of programmes, which has been cited as one of the biggest problems in the country’s higher education system.

Thirdly, the government has called in the country’s graft buster – the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission – to probe the expansion of some local public universities to neighbouring countries, arguing that the opening of campuses was done illegally.

On the spot are Kenyatta University, the country’s largest by student numbers, and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, the country’s fifth biggest, which are said to have breached regulations while setting up campuses in Rwanda and Tanzania.

“Regarding the management of public universities, everybody should carry their own cross and we will not spare them. If they are found culpable they will be charged in court,” said the minister.

Fourthly, the state has barred the institutions from setting up satellite campuses.

“We can no longer sit and imagine that all is well in our public universities. Time has come for us to look at what is going on in the institutions,” said Matiang’i. “We have already closed campuses in Rwanda and Tanzania which were being run by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Kenyatta University,” he said.

In July, the Tanzania Commission for Universities blocked Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and 17 others in the country from admitting students from next month. The commission cited unmet standards.

Around the same period, the Rwanda Higher Education Council said it is conducting an audit on all institutions operating in the country. The outcome of the audit, the Higher Education Council Executive Director Emmanuel Muvunyi said, will determine the fate of the campuses belonging to the Kenyan universities.

The audit will further lift the lid on the management of Kenya’s universities, which is increasingly coming under attack for spearheading what educationists say has been a drastic decline in the quality of learning over the past five years.

Specifically, employers have been raising growing concerns that while the country has been releasing a growing number of graduates onto the market – estimated at more than 10,000 annually – most lack the technical skills the economy needs.