As university shutdowns loom, students face funding cuts

Kenya is looking to lock students from wealthy families out of state-funded university learning in a bid to reduce the unbearable burden of subsidised education.

The Universities Funding Board (UFB) – the agency that allocates university funding on behalf of the government – says that it will conduct an audit on all new and existing students to ensure that only those from needy backgrounds access state funding.

This conservative approach will also be extended to the Higher Education Loans Board, the agency that disburses state loans to students, meaning that the facilities will not be accessible to rich students.

The new model is largely meant to help slash state subsidies at a time when the government is struggling to fund its obligations – the result of a harsh economic environment and pressing loan repayments.

Who needs financial support to study?

University administrators have been seeking to raise tuition fees to meet their costs in the wake of reduced government allocations.

However, this plan has faced stiff opposition due to its direct impact on households which will be forced to dig deeper into their pockets.

The review of the funding model will see those excluded from state funds cater for their own learning fees, a turn of events which could save the government a quarter of the current expenditure on universities.

“This policy recommends a gradual introduction of targeted free tuition to shift the burden of higher education funding to only needy and bright students.

“Evidence has shown that a number of households in Kenya, especially those in the middle and upper income quotients, may not require any financial support to put their children through university education,” said the UFB in a brief to the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Ezekiel Machogu, published in late October. Machogu replaced Professor George Magoha following the August elections in Kenya.

Facing a perfect storm

Public universities rely largely on government subsidies to run their operations. Currently, the government is expected to cater for up to 80% of the cost of degrees per student for all those who are enrolled in the regular stream (government-sponsored), irrespective of their income status.

Students who meet the entry criteria to study at university (C+ grade in their school exit exam) receive sponsorship that covers tuition fees, save for admin fees of about US$160 per year. These students are admitted to public universities.

Those who miss the cut-off grade join the self-sponsored programme where you pay for your tuition. Others join private institutions.

The government capitation currently covers only 57% of the budget with the allocation mainly utilised to pay staff salaries, leaving little or no funding for promoting quality.

“Our universities are facing a perfect storm; lower state funding, reduced enrolment of self-sponsored students and unresolved mismanagement issues that have now hit crisis levels,” said Rufus Mwanyasi, the managing director at Canaan Capital, a financial consulting firm.

The review will also affect government-sponsored students in private universities who currently receive up to US$700 each year from the government. Funding to this cohort, said the UFB, will be completely discontinued.

As a result of the admission backlog, the government had started sending regular students who meet the eligibility criteria for government funding, to private universities. It pays for their tuition, which is higher than in the public sector.

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