Welfare officers want uniform criteria for awarding bursaries

Richard Obiga, Principal Social Development Officer, National Social Protection Secretariat on June 17, 2022. [Standard, Wainaina Ndung'u]

State welfare officials want a law enacted to guide public bursary and scholarship schemes saying scarce resources were widely being wasted on undeserving cases.

Department of Children Services, the National Government Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF) the county governments and the Ward Development Fund run by MCAs all give funds to help learners fill school fees gaps.

But the absurdity is that there are rarely maximum or minimum standards on who should benefit and every unit sets its own rules.

Some NG-CDF funds such as Igembe South in Meru and Nyeri town give bursaries to all secondary school, college and university applicants provided there is proof they are in school.

Peter Ombasa, the Assistant Director of Children Services said they wanted a legal framework that will guide government scholarships and bursaries towards quality and away from political favouritism.

“Addressing the gaps is very critical to the future of this country since education is the best solution for narrowing the standards of living,” he said.

Currently, many government bursary schemes use a simple formula of equal distribution of available kitty to all applicants with little regard to the level of need.

Other funds such as Tigania East NG-CDF also award equal or almost equal bursaries to undergraduate university students while some county funds are paying partial fees for students in tertiary colleges and secondary schools.

County bursary schemes in some arid and semi-arid areas such as Marsabit pay full school fees for secondary school students across the country.

In April, Marsabit distributed Sh20 million to 423 students in schools across the country. It has disbursed Sh91 million to 1,493 students since 2019 when the scholarship fund was launched.

This financial year, 423 students who sat the 2021 Kenya Certificate of Primary of Education (KCPE), and were selected to join national and county schools, will be fully sponsored for four years.

But many NG-CDF and county bursary funds managers in Mt Kenya counties cite limited resources against overwhelming demand and give between Sh3,000 and Sh10,000 to each student.

North Imenti MP Rahim Dawood said with 3,000 to 5,000 applicants annually, the NG-CDF bursary distribution is usually a delicate balancing act in highly populated constituencies.

“We give between Sh5,000 and Sh20,000 and using the need, merit, institution as the guiding criteria,” Rahim said.

“Usually, only the very needy like orphans will get Sh20,000 and we are now excluding day secondary school  students after being advised that the government offers free day secondary schooling.”

Welfare officials believe the bursary schemes need to be insulated from political considerations. 

“How does it help to give a really needy student a bursary of Sh3,000 for annual school fees totalling Sh53,000?” Ombasa poses and proposes that a law should be enacted to guide future disbursements and ensure that only the deserving cases get help.

He said they would propose legislation that would set common guidelines for disbursements across the various government levels so that sound rationale captures the most deserving cases.

“The real unfortunate situation is where you get an underserving child benefiting four times at the expense of a deserving child,” said Richard Omiga, Principal Social Development Officer, National Social Protection Secretariat.

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha raised the issue in April when he asked public bursary schemes overseers to avoid pegging the beneficiary criteria to top performance.

Prof Magoha said many top performers from well-to-do families were unfairly getting bursaries at the expense of deserving average performers.

Ombasa said the Presidential Bursary Fund had set better criteria for average performers.