Challenges to overcome when applying for education loans

Higher Education Loans Board CEO Charles Ringera

Higher Education Loans Board CEO Charles Ringera answers questions from journalists on May 3. Helb uses a Means Testing Instrument when awarding loans and scholarships to students.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

When she received a letter to study Business Management at the Technical University of Mombasa instead of Medicine, Leah Muthoni, 19, was distressed.

Having scored a B- (minus) in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination, Muthoni thought she would pursue one of the most sought-after courses in Kenya.

Her mother, a small-scale trader, is looking for another institution of higher learning for Muthoni to pursue a course of her choice.

“The Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service killed my dream on August 24. I have to find an alternative,” Muthoni says.

The former Lady Consolata Mugoiri Girls High School student says her mother is considering PCEA Chogoria Hospital Clive Irvine College of Nursing.

“I thought the government would pay my fees even if I joined a private college. I have not applied for university funding,” she says.

Elizabeth Wangui, who was placed at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) for a B.Sc in Banking and Finance, applied for funding.

“The last attempt was successful for I did it at night though it was challenging. My friends are still struggling. I’m waiting for the results,” says the former St Mary’s Girls High School, Igoji, student.

“My father is a driver with a monthly pay of Sh21,000 and my mother a primary school teacher.”

Wangui does not know what to do should she fail to get funding for the programme that costs Sh190,000 a year. Her elder sister is also a university student.

“I hope to get a scholarship because my parents cannot afford the fees,” she adds.

For Femia Omwoyo, 17, age is also playing a role in diminishing his university dream.

The former Ambira Boys High School student, who scored a B+ (plus) says his parents told him they cannot afford his fees. His father, Peter Omwoyo, lives from hand to mouth.

“His sister is at African Nazarene University. Paying her fees has crippled my family finances. My son is upset but there’s nothing I can do. I am happy he passed his KCSE test but it is the Kenyan education system has failed him. My crime is being poor,” the elderly Omwoyo says.

His son is to join Multimedia University for a Computer Graphics and Animation course.

“Today we eat, tomorrow we go hungry. My son’s case is unique because of his age. Femia does not have a national identity card yet, making it difficult to apply for anything,” he says.

Femia has been using his birth certificate to apply for funding.

“I heard that the University Fund (UF) will accept the birth certificate until clocks 18 but the money will  be channelled directly to the university if he is successful. I wish there is more clarity on this funding and scholarship programme. I have not paid a coin to the university. How will he be accommodated?” he asks.

Femia’s mother is a greengrocer in Umoja estate and cannot chip in for his university. There are more pressing family priorities.

Mr Omwoyo says his son’s dream is being shattered because of the family’s financial position.

“Politicians keep spreading the lie that education is an equaliser. Children of poor people do not get far. Who will pay their fees?” he asks, adding that Femia’s degree programme costs Sh180,000 a year.

Omwoyo has placed his hopes on Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja to give his son a scholarship.

“The government should be honest and tell us that this new funding model is for the rich. The application is online but how many parents can afford a smartphone, laptop or money for a cyber cafe?” he asks.

Richard Kirui, a guard in Nairobi, says his son – Elisha Kiprotich, who scored a B (plain) at Moi Minariet Boys Secondary School in Bomet County – is expected to join Cooperative University. The 19-year-old has been called to study statistics and ICT.

“Unfortunately, I am not sure of his admission because the application for funding has not gone through. We have attempted it three times. My son is frustrated and giving up,” Kirui says.

The elderly man adds that it is not possible to have his son at the university on a Sh11,000 monthly pay.

His first-born is a Bachelor of Economics student at Maasai Mara University.

“I will need to call a fundraiser to pay his fees. The President and other government officials should show people like us how to divide our little pay successfully and meet all our family needs. I have four children,” he adds.

Says Kiprotich: “I am waiting for the feedback but just don’t know what to do. The yearly fee for the programme I have been placed is Sh241,000.”

However, others like Beatrice Kwamboka encountered no difficulties when applying for funding.

Her daughter, Kerry Almeria Nyamisa, is to join Egerton University for a Law degree. Nyamisa was thrilled when her application went through.

Ms Kwamboka, a gender and governance expert, says parents are only required to meet accommodation expenses at Egerton for now.

“The assumption is that every student is sponsored by the government. After the UF and the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) scrutinise the applications and categorise students, the parents will know their responsibilities,” she says.

She praises Egerton University for employing a seamless admission system.

“One just pays for the accommodation and leaves the child at the university. I paid Sh11,000 for the whole year but other parents paid for a semester,” she says.

It is mandatory for Egerton freshers to put up at the university hostels.  Kwamboka did not apply for her daughter’s funding until last week when the UF clarified some of the issues raised by education stakeholders.

“There was controversy surrounding the national identity card. We were informed to apply for funding, whether the child has acquired an ID or not. My daughter has a waiting card and we cannot tell when the ID will come. I expect the government to give her a loan,” she says.

Money to be repaid

Students like Omwoyo and Nyamisa will not access the loans until they get the document.

“Once we get the ID, we will go back to the portal and make the update. The good thing is that everyone is eligible for the scholarship,” Kwamboka says.

She urges students and parents in regions classified as remote who have had a hard time applying for funding to be patient, adding that the best time to apply is when the system is not jammed.

“Get a person who knows how to manoeuvre but do not give up,” she says.

Nyamisa hopes to secure a scholarship that covers a huge portion of her the education. If she does not get government funding, her mother will have to pay Sh214,700 every academic year.

“The information filled will determine how much you get. If, for example, your child was in a private school, the government can tell how much you can pay. Let the parents be made aware that the money will be repaid by the student once she or he clears education and gets employed,” she says.

The new funding model does not affect continuing students. The 2022 KCSE examination candidates will be categorised using a Means Testing Instrument (MTI), which has been used by the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) for years.

The model which includes scholarships, loans and household contributions on a graduated scale. This is “scientifically” determined by the MTI.

“A key criterion for allocating scholarships and loans to students is the level of need. This will be scientifically considered to ensure needy students are adequately supported to pursue a university education,” a report from the government says.

To determine a student’s level of need, the MTI will be applied using eight parameters – the parents’ background (orphan, single parents etc), gender, course type (technology, engineering, agriculture and mathematics or social sciences), previous school type (private or public), expenditure on education (whether other siblings are in high school or tertiary institutions).

Other instruments are family size and composition (polygamous, monogamous and the age of parents), marginalisation (whether the students come from marginalised counties or institutions in the region) and if the person has any form of physical disability.