Eugene Wamalwa

From left: Eugene Wamalwa, placed at the Technical University of Mombasa for a BSc (Mechanical Engineering) course, Sylvia Kituyi, who was placed at Kaimosi Friends University to pursue a Bachelor of Education course and Natalie Wanjiru, who was placed at Kenyatta University for a Bachelor of Commerce programme. 

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University students turn to low-cost courses after funding crisis

A profound shift in university funding is forcing students to confront heart-wrenching choices.

As the cost of education clashes head-on with their deepest passions, young scholars across the nation are grappling with the stark reality that their academic dreams may be slipping through their fingers.

Countless students, each with their unique dreams and aspirations, have seen their cherished ambitions shattered against the unforgiving walls of financial barriers imposed by the new funding model. These young souls, brimming with hope and determination, now find themselves standing at the crossroads of heartache, as their dreams collide with the harsh reality of mounting tuition costs.

In May, the funding model, which was announced by President William Ruto, introduced a tiered pricing structure aimed at reducing tuition fees for specific programmes. The objective is to make education more accessible to a wider range of students and alleviate the financial burden. However, the model has faced criticism for potentially limiting students' ability to pursue their desired fields of study.

Natalie Wanjiru, a student who aspired to study analytical chemistry, found herself financially constrained when assigned to the University of Nairobi. The high cost of pursuing her chosen field forced her to transfer to Kenyatta University for a Bachelor of Commerce.

“I've always held a strong desire to pursue a course in chemistry, especially analytical chemistry. However, my dreams seemed shattered when I was initially placed at the University of Nairobi by the government. The cost of studying chemistry there was just too high for me to afford; the university was charging us Sh281,350. Luckily, I found a solution by transferring to Kenyatta University. I applied for a transfer with Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (Kuccps) and they accepted my request and I enrolled in a more affordable Bachelor of Commerce programme for which I am paying Sh110,169 a semester,” Ms Wanjiru said.

Desperately seeking a lifeline, Natalie applied for a scholarship, clinging to the hope that it might alleviate some of her financial woes. Despite her resilience, the emotional scars from her journey remain deep, as she reflects on the dream that had to be left behind. “I have also applied for a scholarship to determine the final cost I'll need to bear. I didn’t understand how to apply for Helb (Higher Education Loans Board) funding, which passed me; however, I have applied for the government scholarship to see how much they offer me so that I can pay the rest. Now I am going to university, but I haven’t paid a dime, which is limiting me from registering courses, accessing the library and having the school ID.”

Eugene Madara Wamalwa, a student striving to achieve his dream of a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University of Mombasa, now finds himself entangled in a web of financial struggle. The substantial fees required for his first year have cast a shadow of uncertainty over his future, leaving him feeling trapped and anxious.

“I was placed at the Technical University of Mombasa to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. I am filled with worry and fear that the funding I applied for, the government scholarship, may not come through. My hopes rest on the outcome of this scholarship, as I find myself in a situation where I cannot move forward or even contemplate other options without some form of financial support, currently I am supposed to pay Sh302,940 per year,” Mr Wamalwa confided.

Under the new funding model, critics argue that humanities and social science programmes benefit from reduced fees while science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem) courses and professional disciplines retain higher costs. This disparity raises concerns that students may opt for cheaper courses, compromising their passions and interests. Critics fear that this could hinder creativity, innovation, and personal growth derived from pursuing one's true calling.

Sylvia Kituyi embarked on her educational journey with boundless enthusiasm when she was granted a coveted spot at the University of Kabianga. Her double major in Bachelor of Communication and Public Relations and Bachelor of Education (Science) represented a dream come true. However, the dream was swiftly overshadowed by the harsh financial reality she encountered, with the first-semester fee totalling Sh125,750.

In the quest to alleviate the financial burden that weighed heavily on her family's shoulders, Ms Kituyi made the difficult decision to explore alternative paths. She applied to Kaimosi Friends University, where she could pursue a Bachelor of Education, a course she says is closely aligned with her deep-rooted passion for teaching.

 “I was excited to begin my journey at Kabianga University, where I had been placed by the government to pursue a Bachelor's in Communication and Public Relations and a Bachelor of Education (Science). It was a dream come true, but with a first-semester fee of Sh125,750, the reality of financing my education was daunting,” she said.

Her parents, she says, immediately found themselves facing a financial challenge that seemed insurmountable. “The weight of their hopes and the sacrifices they had made for me were heavy on my heart. I decided to explore other options,” she says.

“The fee of Sh100,000 per semester was still a significant amount, but it was a step towards making my education more manageable for my family.”

Furthermore, the funding model aligns with the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), which mandates that 60 per cent of students pursue Stem-based courses, with 15 per cent in social science and 15 per cent in arts and sports. However, some wonder if this new model will hinder the realisation of CBC goals.

“I joined Kaimosi, my mum only paid Sh10,000. I am waiting to see what the government has paid for me,” added Ms Kituyi.

Students seeking financial aid from the government are categorised into four groups: vulnerable, extremely needy, needy, and less needy. The Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) offers full government funding in the form of scholarships and loans to those classified as vulnerable and extremely needy, covering 100 per cent of their tuition costs. Meanwhile, needy and less needy students receive 93 per cent government funding, bearing seven per cent of the tuition costs.

As of August 23, close to 60,000 applications for loans and scholarships had been received via the financing portal, out of the 280,000 who were placed in universities, and technical and vocational education and training institutions.

Helb says it hasn’t achieved the critical mass required to start categorisation of the applicants into the four bands of vulnerable, extremely needy, needy, and less needy, to determine the level of funding each will get. As students like Natalie, Eugene, and many others grapple with the financial implications of the new funding model, the debate continues over its impact on the pursuit of passion-driven careers and the broader goal of making higher education accessible to all.