Ruto’s Mouth-Watering Promises to the Education Sector

Your Proposals are Unsustainable, Education Reforms Team Told

 President William Ruto on last week received the second interim report of the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER). However, he was not impressed by their work and asked them to come up with better recommendations.

Sources who attended the meeting revealed that the President was not convinced their proposals, especially on university funding, which he termed unsustainable and therefore asked them to rethink them before making their final proposals.

The president’s remarks forced PWPER chairperson Raphael Munavu to call a crisis meeting to strategise on how to accommodate the President’s concerns.

“We need to align ourselves to the national development agenda and the Kenya Kwanza vision. I felt we presented nothing new from what’s already in the public domain. We need to account for our appointment and use of public resources,” another source said. The PWPER has a budget of Sh236 million.

A section of Members of the PWPER have said that the general feeling is that they did not properly interpret their terms of reference. The President told them that their report was “ordinary”, an indication that it was below his expectation.

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State House did not release a communiqué of the meeting that took much of the afternoon and ended late in the evening, unlike when PWPER presented its first report on December 3 2022.

The team had recommended that the government bails out the cash-strapped public universities, which have an accumulated debt of over Sh56 billion. However, President Ruto questioned the rationale behind that and whether it will be sustainable in the long run. Most of the money that the universities owe is what is owed by the Exchequer in capitation.

“He told us to go think through the proposals. It was a good eye-opener. Sometimes you think you’re doing the right thing until it’s interrogated. It was a good discussion and thinking through the different scenarios,” said a member of the task force.

Of contention also was whether some of the models proposed by the working party have been tested. A source intimated that the President’s economic advisers were wary of pumping more money into public universities without proper structures to ensure they do not slip back into the same problems. The lack of clear direction on funding may delay the admission of the more than 173,000 students who qualified for university admission in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education results released last month.

The team was also taken to task over whether the government would afford to sponsor all of them as has been the case since 2017. Recently, President Ruto said that parents who can afford to pay for their children’s university education should do so.

Although the government funding has remained the same, student numbers have been rising, resulting in reduced capitation per student.

At the same time, the President is understood to have questioned the current structure where universities’ senior management is appointed through the Public Service Commission as contained in the Universities Act (2012).

The Head of State is however reported to have been excited about the establishment of the Open National University. There is already a technical committee working on it with its launch scheduled for May this year. It’s expected to admit students in September. According to insiders, the launch will be reminiscent of the Hustler Fund.

However, establishment of the open university is said to be causing unease among vice-chancellors of public universities who fear it will further deny them students and revenue.

“The idea is to have flexible entry into higher education. Students can take the modules when it’s convenient for them,” another source said.

The President also questioned the thinking behind proposals to lower entry grades into teacher training colleges. “He questioned why the grades should be lowered to admit more students when there are thousands of unemployed teachers,” the source said.

A proposal to establish at least one national polytechnic in each county is also said to have not gone down well with the President.

Tomorrow’s meeting which Prof Munavu has termed a debrief of the State House meeting, has already split opinion in the team. Whereas the chair prefers attendance by the chairs of the technical subcommittees and a few others, other members say they should all be included.

The Third and final report of the working party is expended at the end of March when its term expires.

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