Pain of many poor students forced to defer their classes

Egerton students who deferred in this years’ September-December semester after they failed to raise school fees. (Courtesy)
At least 100 university students defer their studies per semester due to lack of school fees.

According to a survey by Nakuru County Students Caucus (NCSC) and the Kenya University Students Union (KUSO), between this and last year, 1,551 needy students have approached the caucus for assistance and most of them have suspended their studies.

South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU) Students’ Association Secretary General Erick Ochola says the government has failed to assist needy students complete their studies.

In SEKU alone, an average 120 students, both self and government-sponsored, defer or drop out completely due to lack of fees.

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“The Ministry of Education should make it mandatory for public universities to have a needy students’ kitty, so the number of deferments can reduce,” says Mr Ochola.

NCSC president Suleiman Wangila says, “We have been rekindling the lost hopes of comrades through fundraisers and looking for donors. As at now, over 800 students are still at home because they haven’t received any aid.”

Early last year, KUSO approached the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) to lobby for an increase of students’ loan and they succeeded.

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“Consequently, Helb increased the minimum allocation for degree students from Sh35,000 to Sh42,000,” says former KUSO Chairman Anthony Manyara.

Godfrey Otunga is a second-year law student at Egerton University. He is among those who suspended their studies for two semesters due to financial constraints.

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He pays Sh172,000 per year as a self-sponsored student. He gets a Helb loan of Sh50,000 every year, which covers part of fees.

The gap of Sh122,000 forced Mr Otunga out of the university into job hunting so he could finance his education.

“Well-wishers have been helping to partly finance my studies. 90 per cent of the fees is normally left for me to pay, I’m an orphan,” he says.

The case is not different for Dennis Kipkirui, a third-year student at Machakos University who sees no hope of completing his studies.

A Helb loan of Sh35,000, which is supposed to cover his upkeep and tuition fees, has been used to pay school fees for his sister who is in Form Three. He also uses part of the money to pay rent and buy food.

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“Hostels are only reserved for first year students, those of us who are needy and can’t afford non-resident life are greatly disadvantaged,” says Mr Kipkirui.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students are not exempted from the struggle, despite Helb expanding its wings to cover them.

But Jackline Chepkoech, who enrolled to Baringo Technical Training Institute has been more unlucky. She applied for the loan before joining the college but she was allocated nothing, forcing her to defer her January 2019 intake.

She says she sent three bursary applications to Nakuru County but all of them have been unsuccessful.

“I have never understood the criteria the bursary committee uses to allocate funds to needy students. My future is now bleak,” she says.

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Mercy Omukuba, a procurement and supply chain management student, is supposed to be in her third year of study at Egerton University.

But she spent all her Helb loan upkeep money to pay for her mother’s bill at Nakuru Level 5 Hospital in September. Her mother is suffering from cervical cancer.

The university requires her to pay Sh34,500 annually, which was to be entirely funded by the loan and a bursary.

Now Ms Omukuba has no one to turn to, with the hospital still demanding Sh300,000 for her mother’s treatment.

“I have just applied for Nakuru County bursary and I hope it will be successful so that I can resume my studies by January,” she says.

Helb says each student is entitled to a maximum loan of Sh60,000 annually, but the amount allocated varies depending on the student’s level of need.

“Of 120,000 TVET students expected to apply for the loan, approximately 70,000 have done so,” says Paul Wanjala, a Helb official.

Mr Wanjala says TVET students receive Sh40,000 per year, of which Sh26,400 pays for tuition and the remaining amount is for upkeep.

He says for one to qualify for a higher amount, he/she has to prove financial inability, for example if they are orphans.

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EducationPoor StudentsNakuru County Students Caucus