State putting heavy funding gap burden on public universities in 2019/20 budget

In Summary

• At the average cost of education of Sh386,500 per student per year, the allocated budget of Sh97.7bn would have been adequate.

Education CS George Magoha
Education CS George Magoha

In the just recently released 2019-20 budget, the Exchequer allocated Sh97.7 billion to Higher Education, with the general Education sector receiving the highest budget allocation of any sector at Sh208.9bn. 

Adequacy of the allocated 97.7bn is the focus of this article. Published information shows that the average cost of educating a Kenyan university first degree student stands at about Sh386,500 per year, calculated across several disciplines such as 600k for Dentistry, 576k for Medicine, 432k for Pharmacy, 180k for the Humanities, and 144k for the Arts. A more exact study taking into consideration student numbers in each of these programmes will adjust the estimate appropriately.

At the average cost of education of Sh386,500 per student per year, the allocated budget of Sh97.7bn would have been adequate for 252,781 first degree university students if the budget were dedicated to just this group alone, which it is not. Rather, included in that allocation are other programmes such as post-graduate, diploma, and certificate, among others in the Higher Education space. 

Using available data to assess adequacy of the current Higher Education funding level, we have used 2013 baseline data as provided by the National Bureau of Statistics to estimate the number of first degree students enrolled in Kenyan public universities in the 2019/2020 fiscal year at 514,154, calculated at an average increase in enrolment per year of about 15 percent, but which can be adjusted for the recent decline in university admissions due to the ongoing educational reforms.Allocating the 2019/2020 Higher Education budget of Sh97.7bn among this 2019/2020 student population of 514,154 gives the average allocation per student of only Sh190,021, giving rise to a funding shortfall in that docket alone of Sh196,479 per student per year.

Unfortunately, this funding gap burden is automatically passed on to the public universities that receive the students as allocated to them by the State.What then, is the way forward? It is the position of this author that the State ought to allocate to universities only the number of students it is able to fully fund. Under this year's scenario then as an example, with a budget allocation of Sh97.7bn, the total number of first degree students placed by the State in Kenyan public universities over the last four years should not exceed 252,781.

In other words, the State should limit its sponsorship responsibility to the extent of its own ability to fund that responsibility, to avoid passing on the funding gap burden to public universities.A fundamental central issue, however, is whether both the State and the universities agree on the cost of educating a first degree student at a Kenyan University of Sh386,500.

If not, a mutually agreed upon cost per unit should be established through a research study to be used as a benchmark for allocating both funds and students to universities.A possible model for undertaking funds and students allocations by the State to universities is setting a minimum Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) pass mark for full State funding, but which can be varied from year to year - within limits.

For example, in the 2018 academic year, 90,377 KCSE candidates met the minimum grade of C+ for admission into the university. If this position obtains for a full four-year circle, the number of first degree university students in the public university system would then stand at 362,508. But because the State is able to sponsor only 252,781 of the students, the cutting point for full State sponsorship should then be higher than C+.

The remaining 108,727 KCSE candidates should still join university education but not under full State sponsorship, simply because the State did not have budgetary allocations for them. Under this scenario, full State sponsorship might have to be capped at the KCSE grade of B over the subject four-year period.

Prof. Atieno Amadi is the Vice Chancellor of Great Lakes University of Kisumu (GLUK) and can be reached at [email protected]