EDITORIAL: New councils must clear varsities’ mess

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Public universities have for a long time suffered a serious governance crisis because of political interference.

Until the Narc revolution of 2002, the vice-chancellors of the public universities were singularly appointed by the President, who was the titular head of all the institutions.

The Narc administration changed this. Then-President Mwai Kibaki ceded the position of chancellor and appointed seasoned private individuals to the position; and the university councils were tasked with appointing vice-chancellors competitively.

Even so, the choice of the chancellors and council chairpersons remained political.

The President and the respective ministers hired some politically-correct individuals to those positions.

Worse, a pattern evolved where individuals were selected to manage universities in their localities.

What emerged was a situation where the chancellor, council chairperson and vice-chancellor were all from one ethnic group.

In turn, they recruited employees largely from their communities, turning public universities into ethnic ghettoes.

Reports by the National Integration and Cohesion Commission (NCIC) have revealed worrying trends where more than 80 per cent of employees in some universities are from the local community.

However, last week’s appointment of chairpersons and council members of 22 universities is a turning point.

The positions were advertised, candidates shortlisted, interviewed and the most suitable picked.

Diversity and competence were applied and those selected posted to institutions away from their localities. The officials have an arduous task.

Councils approve policies and statutes, budgets and staff development. In short, they play an oversight role in management.

This has been wanting as some lacked knowledge of management, having been appointed because of political or ethnic affiliation.

A recent audit by the Commission of University Education exposed massive rot in the institutions, with damning queries on their quality and credibility.

The new councils must reverse this decline and formulate policies for financial sustainability, effective governance, research and innovation.

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