Killing of University Education

The Systematic Killing of University Education in Kenya: The Case of Government Sponsored Students. 

According to several media reports over the last several  years, the cost of education in Kenyan universities for one academic year per student ranges from Kshs.600,000 for the Dentistry programme to Kshs.576,000 for Medicine, to Kshs.432,000 for Pharmacy, to Kshs.180,000 for Applied Humanities, to Kshs.144,000 for Arts subjects.

According to a article published on 6th April 2017 titled “Kenyan universities funding shocker” and another one dated 22nd February 2018 titled “REVEALED: Fee structures of the most popular universities in Kenya”, the State has funded university education at a fixed rate of Kshs.70,000 per student per academic year (regardless of programme of study), for the last 26 years. What this means (if these numbers hold true), is that for a Dentistry student, State funding leaves a funding gap of Kshs.530,000 per academic year. For an entire five year training programme then, the funding gap per student stands at Kshs.2.65M. By extention then, for a Dentistry programme class of 30 students, the funding gap passed on by the State to that university becomes Kshs.79.5M every graduation cycle of five years.


For the Arts subjects that cost Kshs.144,000 per student per academic year and funded by the State at Kshs.70,000, the funding gap stands at Kshs.74,000 per student. For a four year academic programme, that gap stands at Kshs.296,000 per student. By extention then, for an average class size of 100 students, the funding gap in that ptogramme alone stands at Kshs.29.6M every graduation cycle.


Similar calculations can be made across all academic programmes to determine the funding shortfall by the State per student per academic year, and even per programme per academic year. To give an even clearer picture then, we have taken the average funding gap per academic programme over a four to six year duration of Kshs.54.55M, multiplied this by the number of university graduates every academic year (estimated at 49,050 in 2015), to get the overall university funding gap per graduation cycle of more than Kshs.3Trillion.


Looking at the same picture from a different angle, the State is accepting responsibility for less than 19% of the university education burden, passing on the remaining 81% to universities, and making claims to funding university education. More specifically as it relates to the so called Govermment Sponsored Students (GSS), the State purports to sponsor their university education, allocates them to different universities, sends off less than 19% of the cost of their education to the universities – at a time of its own convenience (often one year or more later), prohibits parents from participating in the arrangement, and sits back expecting universities to do the needful. When universities have asked for more funding, they have been advised to diversify their income streams.


If this article has achieved its objective, then the reader should be able to see that university education in Kenya is on its death bed, under a systematic killing by the State, intentionally or otherwise. If you (or a friend) have been a part-time university lecturer who has not been paid for three years or so, then now you know why.


So, what is the way forward? The State should treat the role of university education in the country’s socio-economic agenda with the seriousness it deserves. Instead of sentencing universities to death by strangulation through giving them a funding deficit of 81%, per academic year, it should use that money to provide 100% funding to a handful of qualified university students. This will allow parents (and not universities) to fill the 81% funding gap. This is because it is in the best interest of all stakeholders that our universities survive.


How can universities diversify to subsidise student fee income? The primary and global best practice is through research. How does research happen at universities? Several different ways: 1) State funded research through the different ministries

2) Private sector funded research

3) Development Partner funded research.


In the case of Kenyan universities, none of these three is working at acceptable levels for the following reasons:

1) Instead of funding research at universities where professors reside with expertise in different disciplines, the State instead establishes and funds special purpose parastatals to undertake research.

2) A disproportionately high number of private sector companies are multi-nationals who undertake ALL their research needs in their home countries because there is no requirement of them to work with and to support local universities through research funding.

3) Development Partner research funding (whose primary beneficiary is its country of origin), cannot be effectively pertaken by Kenyan universities due to the overwhelming teaching burden loaded on them by the State (but for which they are hardly paid).


To elaborate on the last point, when the State downloads a university with 26,000 GSS every year (but pays only 19% of the cost of teaching them), professors and lecturers in that university will not have the resources with which to hire either PhD students or part-time lecturers to teach the students, so they do it themselves. As a result, they do not have adequate time to write quality funding proposals nor to work effectively on the projects the proposals bring.


Among the questions to ask and to answer are:


1) How important is university education to the State’s socio-economic development agenda?

2) Whose primary responsibility is university education, the State, or the University?

3) What proportion of the State annual budget should be allocated to education – and how much is indeed allocated – and at which level: is setting up elaborate university oversight structures more important than financing the actual education itself?


Prof. Atieno Amadi is the Vice Chancellor of Great Lakes University of Kisumu and can be reached at

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