Battle rages over control of Kenya’s leading university

Battle rages over control of Kenya’s leading university
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Battle rages over control of Kenya’s leading university

Prof Stephen Kiama
Prof Stephen Kiama: the new vice-chancellor of the University of Nairobi. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG 

The leadership wrangles that have rocked the University of Nairobi for weeks now are fuelled by the battle to control the institution’s prestige and billions of shillings in assets, revenue and grants.

Last week, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha dissolved the university’s council and revoked the appointment of Prof Stephen Kiama as vice chancellor.

This came after it emerged that the promotion of Prof Kiama from deputy vice chancellor, human resource and administration was unprocedural.

Prof Magoha, a former VC at the university himself, immediately reinstated Prof Isaac Mbeche, the deputy vice chancellor in charge of finance, planning and development, as the university’s boss is an acting capacity ‘‘pending the conclusion of the process of appointment of a substantive vice chancellor.

Few hours later, Prof Kiama would announce that he was the ‘‘lawfully and validly’’ appointed VC.

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Soon after, Prof Mbeche directed that all communication from the university would come from his office.

So, what specifically makes the VC’s job lucrative at Kenya’s oldest and largest university?

Established as an independent university in 1970, the University of Nairobi has defined Kenya’s academic scene for decades, and is the alma mater for a majority of Kenya’s political, economic and social thought leaders.

As at 2011, the university had 61, 912 students, 49, 488 of whom were undertaking different undergraduate degree programmes. By 2016, the number had grown to more than 68, 000 students.

The university has six colleges— Architecture and Engineering, Health Sciences, Human and Social Sciences, Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences, Education and External Studies and Biological Sciences.

All these colleges are headed by strong college principals.

The university boasts 540 academic programmes, more than any other university in the country.

Additionally, the university has the highest number of professors at 450.

Academic staff with PhD degrees in the institution are more than 2, 200.

At more than 5,500 administrative and technical staff, the UoN is the largest employer university and at the apex of these brains and hands is the VC. 

In terms of popularity, the University of Nairobi ranks highly in the region and continent, adding to its prestige.

In 2019, UoN was ranked the best institution of higher learning in East Africa by the Webometrics, defeating Uganda’s Makerere University.

In Africa, UoN came ninth, two places ahead of Makerere University.

Among the best 1,000 best universities globally, UoN was ranked the 990th in a list that features Harvard University, Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

But it’s the outlay that the office of the UoN vice chancellor in the university controls that is at the centre of the leadership fight.

In 2016, the report from the auditor-general showed that the University of Nairobi had a total asset value of Sh100.7 billion at the time.

At the time, the institution had an annual revenue of Sh13.3 billion. 

Furthermore, the university received research grants worth about Sh2.5 billion and a development capitation grant worth Sh30 million from the National Treasury.

On top of these, the university collected Sh604 million in school fees from its learners.

These figures make the university one of the richest institutions in Kenya and the region.

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