There is something interesting that came up in the press recently and I have been trying to follow with a keen eye. Sometime last week it was reported in this newspaper that some public universities were crying foul over the government’s decision to cut their funding and direct it to the lower school system.
It is said that some of the universities had resorted to income generating projects and cost cutting measures in order to stay above the water in these hard times. Although some of the rectors spoken to by this paper’s reporter said they had managed to devise new ways of keeping up, the impression was that it was tough on them all the same.
My reading of the situation was that implicitly the reporter was trying to bring out the despondency that universities were going through. The title of the story, “Budget cuts heavy blow to universities” by Charles Kwizera clearly betrayed his intentions.
However what readers were not told centred around the reasons why the government would sit and decide to move this funding to the lower sections of the education system. Was it the right move by the government? Was it necessary and urgent? These are some of the questions that we need to ask ourselves.
Because of the way the story was presented by my colleague, I was later not surprised to read another titled “Varsities advised on cutting costs” by Paul Ntambara just a few days later. This particular one had an education expert giving his views on how universities can cut cost and thus weather the storm.
Again Prof Richard Berman’s advice was great but it still did not attempt to explain why a government would choose to move funds from the higher institutions of learning to the lower education level.
The move is not that hard to understand and the answer lies in one simple word; Priority. Faced with limited financial resources and endless needs a government is expected to distribute these limited resources based on what its priorities are.
The current government has exhibited enormous commitment to education through its various programmes like the Nine Year Basic education, adult education, One Laptop Per Child and so many other education programmes.
Much as university education is important to prepare and churn out the graduates responsible for moving the country forward, lower education is of much more importance. The better term to use here is Basic Education. Basic education is what one gets at the lower levels of the system and although it does not give one any special skills, it is important to realise that it offers one the basic literacy skills in life.
It is important to have a literate society and this can only be achieved by funding lower primary education through programmes like 9-Year Basic Education programme or even the One Laptop Per Child. With plans to even increase the free basic education to 12 years, one can clearly see that it is a priority that deserves more funding and attention.
Education sociologists will tell you in clear terms that basic literacy education benefits the society while higher education largely benefits individuals. In other words, a child who gets primary school education is a plus for society because he or she will be literate and employable.
On the other hand a Rwandan who acquires a PhD is more likely to use it for his own selfish ends by moving to another country where he thinks he will be paid more for his skills. Therefore it makes sense for the government to concentrate funds at the lower level.
However universities should not despair but think of creative ways to generate income and work towards achieving sustainability. They may even be surprised to find that they can make more money than what the government was offering. One of these days I will list some of the ways this can be done.