BWIRE: Universities must remain independent

By Victor Bwire

The recruitment of vice chancellors for public universities should be done by respective councils in consultation with the cabinet secretary in charge of education and not the Public Service Commission.

This should be preceded by the immediate depoliticization of the appointments of the University Council members and ensure merit, diversity and competence are the key to serving on the councils.

It must be demanded of the Councils to restore competence, qualification, diversity and merit on the management of these highest institutions of learning as we work to facilitate them to play serious national development through research and intellectual contribution to the good of the nation.

Most public universities are reeling from massive debts, led by incompetent and insecure managers afraid to engage with their colleagues, struggling with bloated staff and are not fully functionally, have abandoned their core functions of curating knowledge and innovation through teaching and research while at the same time promoting academic freedom, which can only happen under respective councils and nor to managers picked elsewhere.

Industrial actions pitting both the academic and non-teaching staff are the order of the day with academic activities reduced to routine class sessions where class work is relegated to photocopying books and whatssup forwards. University hostels and restaurants are filled with non- university students, as most of the halls have been rented by middlemen, who sell the rooms to students are exorbitant prices. Its almost impossible for students to get access to university facilities.

It’s sad the universities that are independent institutions under various Acts with councils have been denied the opportunity to appoint vice-chancellors, their deputies, principal of colleges and their deputies and have to rely on the PSC to do such critical roles.

These has seen constant clashes between the Councils and the Vice Chancellors, with the resultant tensions in these institutions because of poor working relations. It has also created the possibility that the executive through the PSC can influence who becomes the CEOs of the universities and has created the impression that the Councils, unlike boards of other Semi-Autonomous Government Agencies cannot be trusted or are competent enough to be fully in charge of these academic institutions.

The Universities Act 2012, empowers universities as independent institutions to The Act to regulate its affairs in accordance with its independent ethos and traditions and in doing so it will have regard to- the promotion and preservation of equality of opportunity and access. It Act also requires Universities to preserve and promote the traditional principles of academic freedom in the conduct if its internal and external affairs.

Currently, University Councils through The Statue Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) 2018 Act were dethroned from advertising, interviewing and recommending for appointment top university managers. It requires that university councils appoint the top managers in consultation with the Education minister after a competitive recruitment process by the Public Service Commission (PSC). In the case of chancellors, the university senate will in consultation with key stakeholders identify suitable persons for appointment.

“Five names shall be proposed to the Senate and submitted to PSC for shortlisting and identification of three suitable candidates ranked in order of merit. PSC shall forward the names of the top three candidates to the CS for onward transition to President, who shall pick one of the persons for appointment as the chancellor,” reads the Amendment Act.

The Commission for University Education should work closely in monitoring academic progress and programs at the Universities, constantly checking on the quality and relevance of courses being offered, qualification of teaching staff and research publications coming out of the universities.

Government should assist universities secure their properties including land assets, buildings and security of students in and around universities. The Public Health Ministry should ensure the university environments meet basic requirements of healthy, as many of the institutions have ran out of habitable toilets in around classes and in the halls of residences.

A number of non-students have opened businesses including of drugs within the universities. The fact that a university is located in a particular region does not only mean that employment should be a preserver for the locals, as the Councils work on revamping these limping giants.

The author is the Programmes Manager at the Media Council of Kenya

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