At a new residential building in Ngong, Emannuel Masaki fits a pipe conduit into a wall for electrical wiring. He has been working on the building for four days and expects to be paid Sh5,000 at the end of the five-day contract.
It is a job that Masaki does on the days that he skips classes at Nairobi Institute of Business Studies (NIBS) Technical College where he pursues electrical engineering.
He has been working on construction sites from the time he enrolled at the institution in 2017. This way, he makes money to pay school fees and house rent near the institution located in Kimbo, along Thika Road in Nairobi.
“Sometimes my engineer friends invite me on construction sites to do electric installations. This is how I pay my school fees. The only problem is that I am forced to skip classes when I go to work,” says Masaki.
As a result, the 23-year-old has not been able to complete studies in regular time. Those he enrolled with together for the two-year course have already finished school. He says he misses units he considers easy, only to fail.
“I only attend math classes and other units I consider to be difficult but skip theoretical ones to work on construction sites. There are days, however, when I go away for too long and miss many classes,” he says.
Masaki is not the only student struggling to pay his school fees at a technical institution even after the government announced plans to fund students pursuing courses in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions.
The government last year announced plans to reduce the annual training cost in TVET institutions to Sh56,420 from Sh92,000.
It was announced that every student enrolled in a TVET institution would be eligible for loans of up to Sh40,000. Of this, Sh26,400 was to be paid directly to the college to cater for tuition while the remaining Sh13, 600 would be sent to a student’s account for upkeep.
But uptake of these funds has been low, according to data that was released by the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) last week. Helb announced that it had received only 6,199 loan application forms from first-time applicants in technical colleges, accounting for a paltry ten per cent pf students who had expressed interest in the loan. Helb has budgeted to fund 72,000 students.
Additionally, Helb had received only received 17,980 online application last week from subsequent loan applicants, which was way below the 43,000 students who were expected to apply for the student loans in over 100 TVET institutions distributed across the country. Students in TVET institutions have cited lack of information, stringent requirements by the student financier and delays in processing funds as factors that hinder them from applying for the loans.
Lack of information
It took Davis Maina three years after he completed high school to enroll for Information Science at Ekerubo Gietai Technical Training Institute in Nyamira. With no money for college after he scored a C- in exams, the 21-year-old stayed at home to take care of his peasant farmer parents.
Then one day, he learnt that Helb was providing loans to students who couldn’t pay their school fees in middle level colleges.
“I had given up on ever going past high school. Things changed last year after I heard on radio that the government was providing loans to students in technical colleges. I had always assumed that the loans were only for university students,” says Maina.
Maina counts himself lucky to have heard about Helb in a village where many students had shelved the hope of joining college for lack of funds. Glory Mutungi, from the Kenya Association of Technical Training Institutions (KATTI), says students in far-flung areas who don’t have access to the Internet experience difficulties while trying to access Helb.
“Those who reside in Nairobi have the advantage of Internet connection and easy access to Anniversary Towers where they can have all their queries answered. But there are many needy students in TVET institutions located in the villages that don’t have information concerning the loan,” says Ms Mutungi.
Delays in processing of funds
Caleb, a student at Rift Valley Technical Training Institute, who declines to be named says he gave up Helb after several failed attempts to secure funding. “I tried for a whole year to apply for Helb loan, but was unsuccessful. Then I gave up when I realised that I only had only one year of schooling remaining,” says Caleb.
Ms Mutungi says institutions are in talks with Helb to ensure students in TVET institutions receive their funds in good time.
“Technical colleges are not like universities where students spend a minimum of four years. Students in technical institutions need their funds to be processed in good time for it to be useful to them,” she says.
Last year, Helb was accused of allocating meagre funds to students who applied for the loans, a situation that negatively impacted this year’s applications. Students at Nibs Technical College where Mutungi doubles up as college principal were thrilled when the institution announced that they could apply for Helb loans. The students’ enthusiasm, however, died when they failed to get anything from the student financier.
“Many students who applied for Helb last year did not get anything. Others got as little as Sh6,000 instead of Sh26,400 with no upkeep money. That is why they didn’t bother to apply this year,” says Mutungi.
She hopes that allocations will be better this year to entice more students in need of the funds.
“It is a good thing that Helb has extended the deadline to the end of October. Hopefully many students will have applied by then,” she says.
Negative attitude towards loans
“I’ve never been interested in applying for Helb. I just hate loans,” says Arnold Mwaura, an IT student at Kitale National Polytechnic.
To pay his school fees, Mwaura has been running a liquor store in Kitale town, a few kilometers away from school.
He has one employee who runs the store while he attends his classes. He sometimes sneaks out of class to supervise the business. Mwaura says he has seen graduates who struggled to pay their tuition loans after they leave school and find no jobs.
“You complete school, and Helb expects you to start paying the loan immediately without caring whether you have a source of income or not. Then it becomes difficult to even get a job because some jobs require clearance from Helb. That’s why I prefer to hustle my way through school,” he says.
At Nibs Technical College, Ms Mutungi has been struggling to make students understand that Helb is a loan that requires to be paid.
“Muslims students at the college are especially opposed to the fact that the money from Helb needs to be paid with interest. They prefer the money to be given free to needy students,” she says.
Students in technical fields who qualify for the Helb loan are those enrolled for certificate and diploma courses in any of the 106 TVET institutes registered under the Ministry of Education and approved by Technical and Vocational Education and Training Authority (TVETA) and KATTI.
However, statistics provided by TVETA indicate that there are some 746 registered and licensed technical institutes distributed across the country.
Additionally, there are vocational training centres in the country, some in far-flung villages. The number of national polytechnics is 11. This brings the number of registered and licensed TVET institutions to over 1, 500, which is way more than the 106 institutions that Helb works with.
“Helb needs to expand funding to other institutions and not just the 106,” urged a principal of a city-based technical institution who declined to be named.
Students who log into the Helb portal are required to attach copies of their parents’ identity cards and KRA pins to sieve out students whose parents can pay school fees. Additionally, students attach names of guarantors who commit to pay the student’s loan in the event that the student defaults in paying the debt.
“I’ve seen students who are unable to secure people to act as their guarantors. I’ve been forced to give my name on forms of several students,” says Mutungi.