Loans offered to thousands more tertiary students

Thousands of Kenyan students pursuing post-secondary technical and vocational education and training, or TIVET, will start benefiting from state loans for the first time this year. Previously, students in public universities had the monopoly on state support.

Learners in TIVET institutions will be able to access support from the Higher Education Loans Board, HELB, to help them meet the costs of their education and repay the debt after graduation.

The move is seen by experts as aimed at encouraging more young Kenyans to acquire technical skills, which are acutely lacking across the country.

In future, loans will also be extended to students in private institutions and to adult learners.

For now, though, students have to be studying in public institutions recognised by the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology in order to qualify for the cash. They will also have to be enrolled in approved diploma courses in technology.

In a media notice, HELB stated that students already enrolled in national polytechnics and colleges of technology would be prioritised for loans.

Eligible to benefit will be nearly 54,000 students studying in national and village polytechnics and technical training institutes who currently depend on their parents to pay tuition and other fees.

Added to the nearly 210,000 students in public and private universities, the board will now have many more among the country's 260,000 students clamouring for loans, meaning that it will have to seek more funds from government as well as improve efficiency in collecting loan repayments.

It may also have to seek external sources of funding to fulfil its extended mandate, from bodies such as the World Bank.

Chaired by Professor Joseph Kimura, HELB has been under pressure to extend loans to not only TIVET learners but also students in private institutions and adult learners, the argument being that advancing loans only to traditional students in public institutions is discriminatory.

The board has defended its narrow scope, saying that it does not have enough money to lend to all needy learners.

However, under changes signed into law by the president earlier this year, the board’s mandate has been broadened to include private and adult learners. The Universities Act of 2012 also allowed HELB to seek funding from donor agencies and foreign sources to enable it to meet its mission of broadening access to post-school education.

Besides a wider mandate, the board has in recent years become more innovative in enforcing loan repayments and pursuing defaulters, by roping in other government agencies to ensure compliance.

For example, one cannot qualify for a government job in Kenya if one has outstanding loan repayments owing to HELB, and bodies such as the Judicial Service Commission and Parliamentary Service Commission demand to see a clearance letter from HELB before hiring judges or approving candidates for senior public appointments.

Kenya’s electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, has also been demanding a letter to prove that those running for elected positions in government do not owe HELB money – a move that boosted the board’s coffers ahead of the March national election.