Higher education funding boost for civil servants

Kenya’s Higher Education Loans Board, HELB, in partnership with government has commenced an ambitious higher education financing programme targeting over 250,000 civil servants, which will see all those willing to acquire a university education get funding.

The two bodies have established a ‘revolving’ fund, which will assist government employees to pursue university education, fully funded by the board, and then to repay the money via salary deductions.

Under the plan, set to commence in January 2013, employees will repay the loan amounts at subsidised rates, with the repayment period varying according to factors such as applicant job group and amount awarded.

Target groups include civil servants without degree qualifications, as well as those who already hold a degree but wish to further their education to masters or PhD levels or through a postgraduate diploma.

In an advertisement in the country’s main dailies, HELB said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the ministry of state for public service, to help willing employees access funds to support them in enhancing their knowledge and skills at local universities.

“The fund is meant to assist public servants [to] access funds at subsidised interest rates for training in order to enhance knowledge and skills considered critical for performance improvement and achievement of national development goals,” said the advertisement.

It emphasised that priority groups are those who wish to study in “technical, professional and highly specialised courses” at local institutions.

And in another notice the board said that from 2013, where students are willing, it will extend funding to all salaried students – whether enrolled in private or public universities recognised by the government – for all levels of education.

Those set to benefit must have cleared any HELB loans previously advanced to them (loans are normally automatically advanced to school-leavers on joining public universities). The ability to repay the money advanced will be a prerequisite for those wishing to qualify for such funding support.

The salaried students HELB is targeting are adults employed in either government or the private sector who are already self-sponsoring their participation in Kenya’s popular evening studies in local institutions – also known as ‘module2’ in public universities.

The civil servants being assisted under the HELB-government agreement will also study this way, working during the day and taking evening classes.

Kenya’s civil service will be pleased by the news of subsidised loans considering that, with low salaries relative to those paid by the private sector, only a few public employees can afford university education.

Of the country’s 250,000 government employees, less than 20% hold degree qualifications, with about 30% holding diploma and certificate qualifications.

Contrary to what was previously reported in University World News, HELB is set to undergo major reforms next year, when the government amends the law to replace the board with the broader Commission for Financing of Higher Education, and to help those in private universities as well.

The board is in the process of recruiting a new CEO after the long-serving head, Benjamin Cheboi, quit office in August to enter politics.

HELB gets all of its funding from the government, and last year received a total of KES3.7 billion (US$40 million), up from the KES1.8 billion made available to students in 2006.

The board has experienced challenges in recovering money from ex-students particularly those not employed and those working in the informal sector and in self-employment. But the loans recovery rate has improved in recent years to KES2.3 billion in 2010, from KES1.03 billion in 2006.