University lecturers’ salaries will be based on the course taught as a new funding formula for the institutions takes effect in the new financial year that starts in July.
Under the new formula known as differentiated unit cost, universities will be allocated funds on the basis of their programmes instead of the number of students enrolled as has been traditionally the case.
Medicine, engineering, architecture, computer science and law lecturers will hence be paid higher than those in the general humanities and the social sciences.
In this context, universities with many technical and professional courses will attract higher funding than those mostly teaching humanities.
This is one of the pillars of university transformation that came out during the first university Chancellors Convention held in Nairobi this week and presided over by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.
Dr Matiang’i was emphatic that the uniform capitation to universities was anomalous as it benefited some institutions unduly and disadvantaged the most deserving – those with large numbers of professional programmes.
Discussion on the differentiated unit cost model has been on the table for a couple of years but has never been implemented.
The rationale is that courses or programmes have different requirements and hence different costing.
Since Independence, the government has funded universities on the basis of student enrolment, so those with higher numbers obtained huge sums compared to those with fewer students.
The current rate calculated at the rate of Sh120,000 a student was introduced in the 1990s when the government adopted cost-sharing in higher education and has never been reviewed.
The new metrics will necessitate a change in the pay structure and has a major bearing on future negotiations by the University Academic Staff Union.
Currently, university staff are on strike demanding a new pay package, which among others, raises the minimum basic salary for assistant lecturers from Sh69,794 to Sh300,000, while professors move from a minimum of Sh144,672 to Sh999,030.
Differentiation of pay among academic staff is not an entirely new concept.
Lecturers teaching parallel degree programmes like medicine and law earn more than their counterparts in the general disciplines.
Funding emerged as one of the critical challenges facing universities, which have expanded exponentially in the last decade.
For example, Auditor-General Edward Ouko reported that 11 universities were facing a financial deficit and were sitting precariously on the edge.
Even those without deficit, he said, were barely surviving, which is the reason they were unable to pay better salaries, provide adequate facilities, attract and retain top-notch academicians and conduct research.
Due to cash crunch, universities were dotted with many incomplete projects; a fact graphically illustrated by Egerton University Vice-Chancellor Rose Mwonya, who reported some buildings under construction at her university had stalled for 20 years.
Former Kenyatta University Vice-Chancellor Olive Mugenda highlighted the steady reduction of government funding from 100 per cent to the present 35-45 per cent.
Consequently, the universities have resorted to fees as the cash cow, mainly coming through the parallel degree programmes.
Unlike South Africa and the West, Kenyan universities scarcely attract research or endowment funds, which account for less than 10 per cent of their budgets.
Another major concern was the quality of university education.
Dr Matiang’i highlighted the impact of unplanned expansion on quality, including low level of student-lecturer interaction.
At the postgraduate level, procedures of supervision of candidates are breached, he said.
Many masters and doctorate supervisors take shortcuts and compromise quality.
He said some supervisors solicited bribes from candidates to award them high marks.
Dr Matiang’i also pointed out staffing as affecting quality, presented a major challenge in terms of numbers and competence, arising from low salaries and lack of programmes to prepare new crop of academics.
Prof Paul Zeleza, the vice-chancellor of USIU, said the institutions did not have financial and other resources to attract qualified lecturers.
“Teaching is dominated by part-time faculty, who are often full-time faculty in one institution,” he said.
The conference brought together chancellors of the 70 public and private universities under the leadership of Prof Judith Bahemuka, the chancellor of the University of Eldoret.
It was also attended by chairpersons of university councils and the vice-chancellors.