Donald Maganga is in his final year at Taita-Taveta University and next Tuesday he is hoping to begin the semester that could see him graduate with a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the end of the year.
Yet, like in Langston Hughes' famous poem, "A Dream Deferred", that dream could be delayed if more than 9,000 lecturers in 35 public universities make good their threat to boycott work from Tuesday over a pay dispute.
The lecturers have vowed not to step in class from Tuesday next week when universities, together with the rest of education institutions in the country, open their doors for the 2020 academic calendar.
“If the new pay does not hit our bank accounts by January 6, we will call all our more than 9,000 lecturers and 27,000 staff members out for a strike, which will go on until the matter is sorted out to our satisfaction,” said Dr Constantine Wasonga, the secretary-general of the Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu), on Tuesday.
According to Dr Wasonga, the agreed total cost of the 2017-2021 collective bargaining agreement is Sh13.8 billion and not Sh8.8 billion as declared by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).“We are giving the government time to put its act together. SRC came up with a new salary structure amounting to Sh8.8 billion and we don’t know how they arrived at that figure. Our national delegates conference on November 13 allowed us to call a national strike if this pay dispute is not sorted out and we are ready to go ahead,” he said.
The secretary-general’s comments are a direct contradiction of a statement by University of Nairobi acting vice-chancellor Isaac Mbeche, who last week said the lecturers had agreed to take the Sh8.8 billion instead of the Sh13.8 billion they had negotiated for.
Prof Mbeche, the lead negotiator, said university managers had a meeting last week in which it was resolved that the Sh8.8 billion be accepted by all to prevent industrial action.
According to the SRC, the Sh13.8 billion was arrived at using the wrong salaries for university staff and that the Inter-Public Universities Council Consultative Forum should ensure the figures were computed correctly.
However, Dr Wasonga has dismissed the deal, saying it is fraught with errors because some campuses, which are constituent colleges, had been given allocations independently rather than through the mother universities.
He cited Koitalel arap Samoei University, which is part of the University of Nairobi, and Gatundu University, affiliated to Kenyatta University.
Besides the bread and butter issues, university education is at a reforms crossroads.
The Auditor-General has been churning out reforms laden with the same chorus of how the institutions are running so low on funds to the point of insolvency.
Some named as operating on huge deficits are the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta, Maseno, Jkuat, Moi, Egerton and others.
Significantly, Egerton has had to surrender its title deed for a 642-ha parcel to the Kenya Revenue Authority over Sh856 million tax arrears.
The land is located in Marigat, Baringo County. Egerton University Sacco has sued the institution for failure to remit Sh431 million.
Prof George Magoha, who took over the Education docket in March 2019, hit the ground running with a warning to the universities that they would have to scrap some courses he called useless and merge or shut down some campuses, which he deemed unnecessary.
The momentum for change, however, seems to have slowed down. Apart from the University of Nairobi, which in June scrapped 40 courses, and Moi, which did away with 30 departments, others are yet to take the cue.
In effect, the universities are steeped in a crisis over the stalled reforms.
It is notable that the principal secretary for University Education, Prof Collete Suda, also doubles up as the Chief Administrative Officer of the whole docket, which includes basic education, technical and vocational colleges, tertiary and universities.
This could mean that strictly, the universities do not have a dedicated PS whose attention is focused on the institutions.
“We need a dedicated principal secretary for higher education. The CAS is obviously overwhelmed by the huge ministry and is never available for consultations on universities,” said a vice-chancellor who declined to be named.For Maganga, the commerce student, so many problems stand between him and his dream.
Credit : Daily Nation