Student loans under the spotlight in upcoming elections
Both the ruling Jubilee Party and the opposition National Super Alliance, or NASA, have promised to increase the allocation of loans to the Higher Education Loans Board, or HELB.
Led by Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta, the Jubilee Party manifesto says if elected for a second term the party will double the funds available under the loans board to provide loans and bursaries for technical and vocational education and training, or TVET, in addition to university students, and improve the quality and quantity of the middle-level workforce by aligning curricula with the needs of industry.
“We commit in the next five years to establish formal linkages between the private sector, academia and government and also establish centres of excellence to tap into the talent pool of our young people,” reads the Jubilee manifesto.
“We shall establish a government-sponsored apprenticeship programme of up to 12 months for all university and TVET graduates. Also, we shall create 1.3 million jobs every year and work with county governments to establish at least one industry in every county.”
Opposition party NASA has also promised that it will expand higher education loans, presently limited to universities, to cover all post-secondary education institutions including TVET, while pursuing innovative ways of financing higher education infrastructure.
“We are alive to the plight of fresh graduates who are required to produce Higher Education Loans Board compliance certificates before they can be considered for employment. This requirement is unreasonable as graduates from poor families cannot afford to service the loans, and yet failing to do so denies them a chance to get employment. We will review the HELB loan structure and terms to address this problem,” reads the NASA manifesto.
The party, under its leader Raila Odinga, said it will mainstream languages and culture in education from primary schools to university level.
“…It is a crying shame that it is possible to study for a degree in French and German in our universities, but not in the local languages of Turkana or Taita”, said the NASA manifesto.
Herman Manyora, an education analyst and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, dismissed the pledges as “all politics”.
“They should tell us how they will address the challenges our universities are facing to improve the quality of education and find ways to create more employment opportunities for graduates,” he told University World News.
“They need to focus on how to increase resources for research and ensure that they commit 5% of their annual budgets to research, rather than just increasing the number of students joining the universities,” Manyora said.
“The biggest problem in the country is that there are no available jobs for graduates…The parties need to devise ways to link education with the requirements of industry, to ensure youths attain skills that are required in society.”
The problem of loans for all
Manyora said university loans across the world are given to deserving students, not to everyone.
“The moment the university loan is given to everyone, even those who do not need it, then you demolish the reason for the funds. It is creating a bad culture for those who do not qualify, which is what the political parties are going for,” said Manyora.
“In Kenya, the Higher Education Loans Board is giving loans to private universities and for postgraduate studies and this has lost its key objective of sponsoring those in need.”
In its manifesto, the ruling Jubilee Party claims that under its leadership, the last five years have seen every student that met the university entry requirements offered a place at a university – the first time in Kenya’s history that this has been possible.
“Kenya’s education has recently been ranked the best in Africa. We are proud of this achievement and will build on this strength to nurture a globally competitive workforce to power industrialisation, drive economic growth and encourage job creation. This will ensure that Kenya has a strong talent pool that is attractive to investors and which can be exported across the region and beyond,” notes the party.
On internships for university students – a promise by the Jubilee government – Manyora said internships could be done while students are still at university.
“Universities should be empowered to conduct the internships because it is a requirement for most courses … and most of the skills taught during internship like etiquette and entrepreneurship are what the employers are looking for,” said Manyora.
Francis Mwangi, an analyst at Standard Investment Bank, said raising the loan board’s allocation will likely have an impact on taxes.
“Both parties need to be clear about how the increase in loan allocation will be funded…There is need to give a framework on how they will implement this,” he said.
He said if both political parties were serious about raising the Higher Education Loans Board allocation, this would have an impact on citizens’ taxes.