It is a major win for students from poor households whose parents struggle to pay fees in primary and secondary schools after the government opened a path for free university education.
In new measures announced by President William Ruto, Kenyan students will get State funding for university education based on four categories - needy vulnerable, extremely needy, needy, and less needy - that have been identified by the government.
The President, however, said university fees shall not be increased. Vice-Chancellors had proposed an increment of fees from Sh16,000 to at least Sh32,000, to stabilise universities.
After a meeting with university managers and higher education funding institutions, the President announced all Kenyan students will be categorised into the four group.
It also emerged that chiefs and local pastors will play a key role in identifying the various categories of students through a system known as Means Testing Criteria (MTI) that has been developed by the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb).
At the moment, all students placed by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (Kuccps) and are admitted to universities, get automatic state funding regardless of their financial background.
Ruto said only deserving cases will now get State funding to pursue degree, certificate and diploma courses. This means all the 173,345 who scored C+ and above will make fresh applications for consideration for scholarships. Those who will not succeed will have their parents foot the bills.
This also means it will no longer be automatic for students who score C+ and above to be sponsored by the government into universities and colleges.
All students will be required to make fresh applications requesting to be considered for government funding. The government will consider merit, the level of need, national priorities and affirmative action when selecting beneficiaries.
Students who scored A in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations but do not fall under any of the four categories will miss out on government funding and will have to finance their own university education.
However, Ruto said: “All students shall be supported adequately to meet the cost of the programme they choose to pursue. No student will ever be left behind.”
The radical resolutions mirror the proposal of President Ruto that some parents do not need government support to educate their children.
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Speaking last year, Ruto noted that many parents who sponsored their children in academies in basic education turn to the State for university funding, edging out vulnerable students.
‘‘We have students in academies all through from Standard One to Form Four, but when they go to university, we want to tell them we can pay for all of them,’’ Ruto stated.
He added: “We need to be honest with ourselves that let those who can afford, pay and let us think on how we can assist those who cannot afford rather than pretending that we are going to support all the children even when we are not in the position to.’’
To justify the changes, Ruto explained that the increase in tertiary and university education institutions has led to reduced funding per student as available resources are stretched, and this has led to a crisis.
The President said the government will increase funding to higher education but also implement a formula that will support students, especially those from poor backgrounds.
He said that the government has found a solution to funding universities and tertiary colleges, which includes increasing allocation to Sh84.6 billion up from Sh54 billion.
Ruto also said that each student will receive some Sh208,000 per year up from Sh152,000.
“For the first time, students from households at the bottom of the pyramid shall enjoy equal opportunity in accessing university and TVET education. Their households shall not make any contribution towards the education of their children,” Ruto said.
He said students from needy households joining universities will receive government scholarships of more than half, about 53 per cent.
They will also be able to access loans of up to 40 per cent. This means the parents will only pay the balance of about seven per cent of the cost of education.
“Those joining TVETS will receive government scholarships up to a maximum of 50 per cent and 30 per cent in loans, while their households will pay 20 per cent of the costs,” Ruto said.
He also said that students who shall fall in the less needy bracket will be funded through a government scholarship of up to a maximum of 38 per cent of the cost of the programme.
The students will also access loans of up to 55 per cent with parents left to pay the balance of seven per cent of the cost.
“For those joining TVETS, they will be funded 32 per cent for government scholarship, 48 per cent for loans and their households will pay 20 per cent of the costs,” said Ruto.
However, Ruto announced that students who will be enrolled in private universities will only access loans and shall not be eligible to any government scholarships.
“The new model of funding higher education, to be implemented starting this academic year 2023/2024, will commence with the new cohort of 173,127 students joining universities and 145,325 joining TVETS,” Ruto said.
The government will only give graduate scholarships to students enrolled in public institutions. Those who get admissions to private universities will only qualify for loans. They will not get scholarships.
In the new plan, all students will have an equal chance to select courses in public or private universities.
The new move will spark competitiveness among universities and colleges, all institutions will be required to lay bare the courses they offer and attach costs.
Kuccps shall then publish this information for all students before they open the portal for students to select courses.
Students will therefore make choices based on the courses they want to pursue and also depending on what their households can afford.
Insiders said that this will push universities and colleges to be competitive to attract students.
“With the new funding model, universities and TVETS will be motivated to raise additional resources and to enhance the quality of education so as to attract more students,” Ruto said.
Kuccps Chief executive Dr Mercy Wahome said that the portal shall be opened for students to apply for courses in about one week.
“Once the universities declare their details we shall be able to open the portal after one week,” said Dr Wahome.
Ruto said: “All universities and TVETS should, with immediate effect, disclose and provide information on the cost of their academic programmes to the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service.”