Kenya: Good News for Varsity Loanees If BBI Passes Test

22 October 2020

Beneficiaries of higher education funding will be some of the biggest gainers if a proposal in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report sails through.

The report, launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga Wednesday, recommends changes to the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) Act 1995 to allow graduates begin repaying the money four years after completing their studies.

Thousands of Kenyans whose university or college education was funded by Helb have seen the amounts rise exponentially as penalties and interest start accruing immediately they graduate.

Many beneficiaries have been listed with credit reference bureaus (CRBs), limiting their chances of accessing loans from banks and other financial institutions.

This also denies them jobs since most public and private firms require applicants to be cleared by Helb and the CRBs before they can be recruited.

Fresh graduates are expected to start repaying higher education loans in their first year of completing studies.

Another proposal in the report is that Helb loans should start attracting interest when the beneficiary is gainfully employed.

A high unemployment rate among graduates has been cited as one of the main reasons for thousands not servicing the Helb loans.

"The proposed amendments exempt loanees with no source of income from paying interest on the loans advanced to them until they start earning an income," the report reads.

The proposal to delay the repayment of loans may, however, roll back gains made by Helb in recovering its money.

Beneficiaries still owe the agency more than Sh6.5 billion.

In the last financial year, Helb gave out Sh15.4 billion in loans and Sh100 million in bursary and scholarships to 245,875 students in 74 Kenyan universities and five in Uganda.

The board also finances students in technical and vocational education and training institutions and medical training colleges.

Some 120,474 such trainees were funded last year.

In a recent interview with the Nation, Helb chief executive Charles Ringera said he and his team are streamlining the revolving fund to achieve sustainability through efficient loan recovery.

The BBI report proposes a review of the entry requirements for jobs in the public and private sector to make them more accessible.

Many Kenyans who appeared before the BBI steering committee also recommended a review of the school curricula.

They want the syllabus to introduce and integrate teaching of national unity, character and cohesion during the formative or early years.

The report suggests changes to the current teacher recruitment policies with a view to enhancing integration among communities and minimise ethnic antagonism and competition.

It recommends a review of admission policies to schools to give them a national outlook.

The Teachers Service Commission started its delocalisation policy a few years ago, under which academic staff are posted far from their native homes.

However, teachers' unions have been opposed to the development, arguing that it inconveniences their members and contributes to family break-ups.

To improve access to education in marginalised communities, especially in arid and semi-arid regions, the report recommends that the National Council of Nomadic Education in Kenya (Naconek) be given body corporate status with autonomous funding from the Ministry of Education.

With the funding, the report says, Naconek would be able to provide meals and sanitary towels to learners, establish low-cost boarding schools and promote adult and continuing education.

It would be further mandated to provide remote learning and alternative provision of basic education in areas classified as hardship.

Some recommendations in the report have already been effected with varying degrees of success.

The report, for instance, stresses the importance of integrating ethics and responsibilities as part of the curriculum at all levels of education.

This is well covered in the national goals of education and integrated in the competence-based curriculum, which is already being used in lower primary and Grade Four.

"Stakeholders told the steering committee that ethos and values can be embedded in various aspects of school culture, for example in school clubs and during assemblies where learners should recite the loyalty pledge and the national anthem," the report says.

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