Kenya’s public universities are facing a dire financial situation as it has been revealed that they collectively owe a staggering sum of Sh75 billion in pending bills. This amount, which has doubled over the past two years, poses a significant threat to the operations of these institutions and has raised concerns about their sustainability.

The disclosure comes amidst a transition to a new funding model that has encountered challenges, including delays in disbursing funds to universities already grappling with financial strain. The Universities Fund (UF) urgently requires Sh11.9 billion from the Exchequer to support first-year students, having received only Sh7.97 billion thus far. This shortfall has further compounded the universities’ financial predicament.

Moreover, the situation is exacerbated by the non-payment of tuition fees for continuing government-sponsored students in private universities, leading to dropouts. Despite students receiving funds for upkeep from the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb), concerns remain about the viability of the new funding model, especially with an anticipated increase in student enrollment.

Student leaders from various universities are calling for greater accountability in the allocation of scholarships and loans, citing concerns over mounting student debt. Additionally, the accumulation of pending bills, totaling over Sh8 billion in one year alone, underscores the severity of the financial challenges facing public universities.

While assurances have been given by university officials and government representatives that efforts are underway to address the situation, the enormity of the debt burden, including unpaid statutory deductions to Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and pension funds, remains a pressing concern.

Public universities, which heavily rely on government subsidies, have been allocated Sh82 billion for the 2023/2024 financial year, falling short of their budgetary requests. With ongoing consultations between the Ministry of Education, the National Treasury, and other stakeholders, the hope is that a resolution can be reached to alleviate the financial strain on these critical institutions of higher learning.

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