Is the University of Nairobi holding the wrong end of the stick?

When it comes to vocabularies, those in authority supply them in plenty.

For instance, frugality, austerity measures, ascetics, restructuring, retrenchment, merger, reorganization, reorientation, privatization, rebranding, reforms and innovation, among other terms, punctuate the discourse of government institutions.

Some of these words can be used interchangeably when analysing the current situation of the University of Nairobi.

The oldest university in Kenya has prescribed for itself the blueprint for a radical surgery of its own management and governance structures.

This includes the scrapping of the offices of Deputy Vice Chancellors, Principals and Deans of Colleges and Schools.

While the University Council maintained that the structural reforms were aimed at eliminating bureaucracy on one hand, perhaps even more celebrated is the cost-cutting motivation implicit in the move.

The new move is projected to trim spending on the allowances of these offices of the university.

Political pundits have criticized the move, arguing that the reforms have peeled off checks and balances in the system.

This, they argue, will pave the way for the entrenchment of a one-man command post.

They argue that such a model, unless judiciously managed, may metamorphose into autocracy.

Critics of this bold move further argue that the decision is populist.

It targets the meagre allowances of a Dean or Principal which will eventually find their way into other administrative units of the university like procurement whereby collosal sums of funds are looted through corrupt deals.

This is the epicentre of systemic malpractices that cripple institutions financially.

Furthermore, the reason why the tax payer “can’t breathe” in Kenya is the heavy spending at Ward, Sub county, County and National government levels.

Ward administrators, MCAs, MPs, Senators, Cabinet Secretaries, Governors, Speakers, Women Representatives, Public Service Boards, Chief Administrative Officers, Chief Executive Committees and such like sit and draw hefty “sitting” allowances.

This is despite their job descriptions that amount to duplication of functions.

Recall that these jobs require that the officers “sit”, anyhow, by virtue of earning a salary, and, therefore, “sitting allowance” is a misnomer.

If the proposed offices envisaged in the BBI are enacted, the wage bill from Kenya’s governance and administrative system will be bloated further by the obviously redundant tier of “government officers”.

Accordingly, political analysts view the University of Nairobi’s blueprint as an avenue for saving money that would eventually end up cushioning heavy spending on “government officers” elsewhere.

This will happen at the disadvantage of bolstering development for Kenya’s hard working donkey, punda .

We are yet to know what percentage of the University of Nairobi’s cost-cutting measures will be invested in research which is critical for social development.

Without this, the university’s move should be viewed as reflex response to the dwindling government capitation to institutions of higher learning because it “can’t breathe”.

The move is an indictment of the neglect by government to support teaching, learning and research which is slowly “stifling” the education sector.

Reduction in spending in education results in systematic emasculation and ultimate control of institutions whose primary mandate is to generate ideas seminal to economic growth.

Perhaps, such institutions should “resist” arm twisting tactics that coerce them into subservience to preserve themselves.

Reforms are welcome if, and only if, they are not selectively applied to the citizenry.

  • The author comments on topical issues.
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