College students to receive loans as state ups tertiary spending

Kenya has set aside at least 100 million shillings (US$2 million) in the coming year for loans to students in middle-level colleges as the country seeks to absorb more students into the post-secondary school system. Universities have also received a funding boost.

The student money, to be disbursed by the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) on behalf of the government, is part of enhanced funding to the sector in the fiscal year beginning this month.

Students at technical, industrial, vocational and entrepreneurship (TIVET) colleges will now have access to loans of up to US$176, less than a third of the US$500 that students at universities receive.

This, said HELB Chief Executive Benjamin Cheboi, was to help students – most of who are finding it hard to finance their studies – raise tuition fees.

The roping of TIVET students into the loan scheme is an indication of government’s resolve to expand technical education as it seeks to increase enrolment in post-school institutions.

Educationists said the government would raise the allocation for students in colleges in the coming years as the sub-sector increasingly gains importance in Kenya’s policy matrix.

Kenya is also expected to pump more cash into the construction of physical infrastructure and buying of modern equipment for technical colleges, to give them the capacity to admit thousands more young people seeking tertiary education.

The plan is that when technical institutions are well equipped, some will be upgraded to offer degrees in areas such as engineering – a departure from the current system, in which technical colleges and polytechnics offer only diploma and certificate qualifications.

The fact that only a few universities offer technical degrees has resulted in a shortage of high-level technical skills. In recent years, universities have begun collaborating with technical colleges in order to change the programmes they offer and to seek expansion avenues to resolve an admissions crisis plaguing higher education.

The country hopes the mix of institutions will help churn out much-needed skilled human capital with an appropriate range of technical and formative skills to drive economic growth.

Data in the Economic Survey 2012, released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry of Planning in mid-June, showed that the economy slowed from 5.8% growth in 2010 to 4.4% last year and it is expected to perform worse this year.

In the budget read late last month, the government said it had set aside an extra US$60 million to fund TIVET institutions. It also intends setting up a polytechnic in each of Kenya’s eight provinces.

There was an increased allocation to universities in the budget, which will see public institutions receive US$732 million, nearly a third up from the previous year.

Students who fail to get admission to universities usually enrol in colleges. But rising fees coupled with high living costs have left students and guardians, especially from poor households, unable to meet the cost of post-school learning.

“Our target is to finance orphans and students from single parent [families] as well as other needy students who can hardly afford schools fees,” HELB’s Cheboi told the leading Daily Nation newspaper.

In the 2012-13 budget, the government also announced it would pump US$35.2 million into HELB, up from US$28.2 million in the just-ended fiscal year, to help it provide loans to thousands more students.

The extra students are expected to join public universities in September and October under the double-intake plan, a gradual strategy that should see universities enrol 40,000 students over and above their usual intakes in the next three years.

HELB has been seeking Treasury intervention for months now and the commitment by the finance minister is being read as resolve to end the crisis at the loans body.

The raise in funding over the past four years has not kept pace with the 40% rise in enrolments during the period, especially as HELB has had to increase the amount it gives to each student to factor in inflation, which has shot up by nearly 20%.

Higher Education Minister Margaret Kamar said the increased funding would in addition help to build the Open University of Kenya, a new institution aimed at enabling people to access university more flexibly.

It will deliver programmes through both e-learning and printed materials and will initially have 10 regional centres, with additional access points later established across Kenya’s 47 counties.