In an address to more than 500 Kenyan students studying in Khartoum, Sudan last month, President Uhuru Kenyatta said every Kenyan student is entitled to a university loan regardless of where they are studying.
“We have a clear policy that all Kenyan students, whether at home or abroad and who are in accredited universities, qualify for HELB loans,” he said.
Questions however are raised as to where the money to lend to the students will come from, considering the high cost of fees in main study destinations including Europe and North America.
Even more important is that so far a policy to facilitate the funding of foreign students is not yet in place, meaning that the directive may have to wait until late 2017 or early 2018 before the benefits can be enjoyed by students.
“We are currently funding 1,500 students in the EAC at an average of 50,000 shillings (US$500) per year”
According to HELB chief executive, Charles Ringera, the Kenyan Ministry of Education will have to develop a policy guiding how the learners can access finances, followed by budgetary allocations before the directive is actualised.
“It’s too early, remember once executive pronouncements are done like this one, the ministry in charge crafts policies required to execute the pronouncements,” Ringera told The PIE News.
“Budgetary allocations are done by the Treasury and the implementing agency in this case HELB, then runs the process of implementation,” he added.
In the current financial year, HELB was allocated a total of $91m for advances to students with another $1m going to operational expenses, hardly enough to cover the more than 200,000 students learning in local and regional institutions.
Perhaps as an indication of HELB’s access to cash flows are the some 86,000 government-sponsored students admitted to universities in August this year who are yet to receive their loans.
HELB is also funding undergraduate students studying in institutions within the East African Community (EAC) region comprising of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
“We are currently funding 1,500 students in the EAC at an average of 50,000 shillings (US$500) per year,” confirmed Ringera.
Kenyan budget cycles run from June to June of each year, which means the presidential directive will have to wait for budgetary estimates and allocations to be made in June 2017 before the decree can be put to action.
A World Bank report, Expanding tertiary education for well-paid jobs: competitiveness and shared prosperity in Kenya, projects that the number of students requiring government loans will grow by between 30,000 to 35,000 each year between 2014 and 2022, which would require enhanced funding to HELB if it was to also sufficiently support students studying abroad.
There are signs, however, that the work of providing loans to students overseas might become lighter. UNESCO reports that the number of Kenyans seeking education has been falling and will continue to fall, a trend attributable to rapid expansion of both state and private sector investment in local higher education.
Estimates from the UN body put the number of Kenyans studying abroad in 2013 at 13,000, down from 15,000 the previous year.