, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 26 – A preliminary inquiry into the state of affairs in public universities has revealed increasing cases of lethargy among lecturers resulting in unattended classes.
According to Education Cabinet Secretary Amb Amina Mohammed, a number of lecturers have diverted their attention to part-time classes in private universities leaving students in public universities without the much-needed student-tutor contact.
“Most of the members of the teaching staff seldom attend classes and this is something student leaders we’ve spoken to have confirmed,” she said during a press conference on Thursday ahead of an inaugural meeting by an inter-ministerial committee constituted to review the provision of higher education in public universities.
“Module and university hopping is a challenge that dilutes the essential student-professor contact required in higher education,” the CS pointed out.
She also said the ministry was investigating cases of diversion of funds in public universities which have continued to hamper efforts for capacity building.
The announcement came amid concerns by university workers, including lectures, who have accused public university councils of failure to submit statutory payments.
The preliminary probe will run concurrently with a month-long audit of public universities with a view of determining a sustainable counter-offer for the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which triggered a nationwide industrial action by dons on March 1.
The strike which entered the 57th day on Thursday is the fourth in less than fifteen months.
The Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU), representing lectures and sister union representing non-teaching university staff had at the beginning of the January-April semester in 2017 called for a strike that lasted 54 days as they demanded the negotiation of the 2013-2017 CBA.
The 54-day strike was called off on March 13, 2017, after a Sh 10 billion CBA which saw a 17.5 and 3.9 per cent increment in salaries and house allowances of lecturers.
The strike was later reignited on July 3 after UASU faulted the government for defaulting on the agreed upon payment schedule.
The second strike for the year was called off on July 18 UASU Secretary General Constantine Wasonga saying the union had received a legally binding commitment by the government that the CBA will be honoured.
In the third strike called on November 1, after UASU protested the implementation of the 2013-2017 CBA in two phases the first sum – Sh 4.8 billion – being wired to universities in June under the 2016/17 Financial Year.
The remaining amount of Sh 5.2 billion was transmitted late November under the 2017/18 Fiscal Year amid a paralysis in public universities.
The strike dragged on until December 9 when UASU signed a return-to-work formula which introduced a new clause requiring negotiations for the 2017-2021 CBA to commence on December 18 and be concluded by January 31. This clause triggered the current strike.
While regretting the anguish perennial strikes by lecturers in public universities have caused on students, parents, and guardians, Amb. Mohamed on Thursday said an inter-ministerial team headed by Higher Education Principal Secretary Micheni Ntiba will seek a permanent solution that will put the matter to rest.
She said the Ministry of Education will take decisive action to conclusively deal with persistent strikes by lecturers in public universities which threaten the provision of quality education.
She assured that no efforts will be spared in putting to rest the ongoing lectures strike saying “tough decisions” will be made.
“Time has come to make resolute and necessary decisions to restore the quality of learning in our universities. Most of these decisions will be unpopular but of immense value to the future of this country and our children and so we will go ahead and make these decisions,” the CS said.
According to Amb. Mohamed the inter-ministerial team she gazetted on April 20 will in addition to recommending a counter-offer for the 2017-2021 CBA for striking lecturers review management and staffing policies in public universities in a bid to introduce efficiency.
“Our engagement now will set in place mechanisms for an entire reorganization of the university sector to cater for the needs of every player with the most important focus being restoring the quality and competitiveness of our university education and the caliber of university professors and graduates,” she said.
The CS has since directed that at least seventy per cent of PhD scholarships be awarded to candidates who have committed to teaching in public universities to enhance capacity.
The team to be chaired by Higher Education and Research Principal Secretary Prof Micheni Ntiba and which is comprised of counterparts from the National Treasury, Public Service, and Youth Affairs, and Interior has until May 18 to table a report.