Reprieve for students in varsity admissions

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu (second left) chats with legislators after appearing before the National Assembly Education Committee on August 24, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Students reporting to public universities for their first academic year will not be sent away for fees and the opening dates will be flexible to allow all students to get admission.

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu said the decision was made after it emerged that the loans and scholarship applications were not moving as envisaged.

Machogu said universities have been directed to admit all students unconditionally as funding data is analysed and students placed accordingly.

Thursday, MPs asked Machogu to give an assurance that system failures for loans and scholarship applications will not be used to punish students.

After appearing before the National Assembly Education Committee, Machogu released a circular dated August 24 to all vice-chancellors of public universities and principals of constituent colleges, directing them to admit all learners.

“Universities and colleges shall admit all students from the 2022 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) cohort as placed by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) pending the processing of their applications for funding,” Machogu said.

The CS also directed all universities and colleges to have in place a help desk to support first-year students that may need assistance in relation to their funding applications.

The decision is a major reprieve to parents and students as frustrations were increasing over frequent and recurring system challenges that threatened to lock many out of the funding opportunity.

Students who spoke to The Standard said the application process is long, tedious and often failing, a situation that saw many of them take up to two weeks to complete the process.

Students further described the process as too complex as it requires advanced computer skills.

Particularly, affected are applicants in rural settings where internet is a challenge and those with low computer literacy skills.

Those without national identity cards have also had a rough time as access to the application portal is frustrating. At a certain stage, a digital signature is required yet many students have no idea how to navigate around the requirement as opening on universities nears.

Machogu Thursday told MPs that by August 23, only 75,272 students had successfully submitted applications for loans and scholarships.

“We have looked at the applications and we have seen that so far only 40 per cent of the targeted students have submitted their requests. This is because the high number of students accessing the system has made it not move as fast as we wanted,” Machogu said.

Geoffrey Monari, the University Fund chief executive, said they have been receiving an average of about 8,000 applications each day.

Vice chancellors of the public universities told The Standard that no first-year students will be locked out of class.

Vice Chancellors Committee chairperson Prof Daniel Mugendi said the decision was arrived at during a meeting of VCs on Wednesday.

Prof Mugendi said students will be allowed to resume classes until Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) communicates to them about the status of each learner.

The VCs also announced that the reporting dates for the students will remain flexible until all students will have been put in the various eligibility categories.

“We agreed not to fix the reporting dates because Helb and Universities Fund (UF) were taking long to process the students funding data,” said Prof Mugendi, who is also the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Embu.

“We also agreed that students will report when they come, they will be allowed to attend classes as we normalise their details once Helb communicates to universities,” he said.

Mugendi said that some universities had already admitted students but noted that some may still allow learners to report until later in September.

“Reporting date is the mandate of various universities Senates. There are students who will report on August 28, while some will report between September 4 and 25. This will happen as we wait for Helb to sort out the and updates us on the funding details of each student,” said Mugendi.

Application for university scholarships and loans started on July 31 and was expected to be closed on September 7.

Machogu said that university admissions were initially scheduled to be done between August 24 to 25.

“Universities have been requested to give students a month to process loans and scholarships from the opening dates,” said Machogu.

This means that students may not be sent away for fees until end of October.

Machogu told MPs that that once all students will have submitted their applications, verification of the learners’ documents will take seven days.

Allocation of scholarships and loans will take one day after which disbursements will be done.

MPs however put Machogu to task over what they termed as rushing the admission of students despite challenges in application and categorisation of students.

MPs listed exclusion of students below 18 years for missing out on university loans, a matter they argued amounts to discrimination.

The possibility of abuse of the process of categorisation of students was another concern.

Data released by Machogu shows that for universities admissions, some 21, 814 who will be categorised as vulnerable will get full funding of their courses.

These students will get scholarship of 82 per cent and a loan of 18 per cent of the cost of programme.

The 23,372 students who will be categorised as extremely needy will get 70 per cent scholarship of cost of programme and another 30 per cent for loans.

Machogu also said that the 26, 488 students who will be categorised as needy will get scholarship of 53 per cent of the cost of programme and a loan of 40 per cent.

Report by Augustine Oduor, Mike Kihaki and Lewis Nyaundi.

Another 84, 140 who will be categorised as less needy, according to Machogu, will get 38 per cent scholarship and a loan of 55 per cent of cost of programme.

The household for both needy and less needy categories will pay seven per cent of the programme cost as fees.

Overall, it is projected that some 45,186 university students and 42,144 TVET trainees will be supported fully by the government and their families will not be required to pay anything.

Despite Machogu indicating that there is a scientific tool used to assess a students level of need, MPs doubted whether most students will be rightfully placed in the categories they deserve.

Suba MP Milly Odhiambo said the process of funding will be abused since there is no clear criteria to determine the categorisation of students.

‘‘How will the distribution of students on the full scholarships be achieved so that minority communities are not affected,’’ Odhiambo said.

MPs further raised concern that students admitted to private universities were discriminated upon as they will not get scholarships under the new funding formula.

Kitui South MP Rachel Nyamai said some students were placed in private universities against their wish, although she did not provide any evidence.

Higher Education and Research Principal Secretary Beatrice Inyangala assured students placed in private universities made an informed decision.

‘‘We are not disenfranchising private universities. It was clear that some students still preferred to join private universities on their own,’’ Dr Inyangala said.

The new funding model was unveiled by President William Ruto in May and will fund students depending on their level of need as assessed by the Higher Education Loans Board.

“We cannot assume that all students need government financial support to cover tuition fees, we will make sure we have captured all students before closing the application window but we cannot force all students to take financial support extended,” Monari said.

(Augustine Oduor, Mike Kihaki, Lewis Nyaundi)

 

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