The students are in the country in a deal between five universities and the County Government of Uasin Gishu, a devolved unit in the East African country.
The unit failed to meet its commitment to pay for the full tuition and accommodation fees amounting to millions of dollars, contrary to a tripartite agreement it had agreed with the universities and parents of the 384 students.
As the students, some of them in their second year of learning, face discontinuation of studies if fees is not settled by March 31, the county government is battling accusations of misappropriating money kept in an education trust fund account it was managing, and in which parents had deposited about US$4.9 million.
Under the deal, the county government was to act as guarantors for the students now at the centre of “airlift scandal”, to ensure they obtained study visas from the Finnish government, while the students acquired much needed skills via degrees in health and engineering related fields.
While the parents deposited the money in the trust fund account and the first successful 51 left for one of the institutions, Tampere University, other batches of students followed suit leaving Kenya for Jyväskylä, Laurea and LUT universities in subsequent months of 2021 and 2022, bringing the total number 202.
Subsequently another 180 students applied and got admitted to the institutions under the arrangement and commenced distance learning as they waited to travel to Finland for in-person classes. Others obtained visas and were waiting to join the universities both last and this year.
“We have negotiated with universities for an extension of the fee due dates”
It however turned out that officials of the county who also acted as trustees to the account did not transfer the money to the universities precipitating the current crisis. The universities’ officials have visited Kenya for negotiations, amid demand letters to the County government and threats of expulsion.
“We have negotiated with universities for an extension of the fee due dates. We have also discussed and reminded the parents that payment of fees is their responsibility,” Uasin Gishu governor Jonathan Bii is quoted saying in the local media.
It has also emerged that the money was fraudulently withdrawn from the account without being paid to the Finnish institutions, in a scandal that has shocked the country and which has attracted forensic investigations from national anti-corruption agencies.
As a result, stop-gap measures, including negotiating for an understanding with the institutions and with local lenders to advance loans to parents, are being considered.
“We have engaged with financial institutions, and some are willing to offer a soft loan to parents who are willing to pay fees for their children,” Bii said in a statement.