Muslim leaders seek changes as students keep off Helb loans

Trace Kenya Program Associate Omar Gomey engage colleges and universities students in an activity in Mombasa. [File, Standard]

Some students who qualify to join universities and colleges are shunning government loans citing religious beliefs.

The Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) said the loans incur interests, which is prohibited in Islam under Sharia rules.

“Some of our Muslim students do not apply for Helb loans because according to their faith, we understand, it is prohibited to take out loans that are paid back with interest,” said King'ori Ndegwa, Helb lending manager.

With a new university funding model announced in April, which will see more students that qualify for university heavily depend on loans to finance their studies, the community is asking for a quick solution.

Some students of the Muslim faith who sat last year's KCSE examination say the new model leaves them in dilemma.

“My father asked my sister who has just completed second year not to take up the Helb loan when she joined campus, and this will be the case even when I join in September,” said Abdi Abdirahman who scored Grade B.

Abu Ayman, the Jamia Mosque spokesperson, explained that interests are considered as a means through which the poor remain poor, and the rich get richer.

He said this has locked out Muslims from government opportunities such as the Hustler Fund.

Ayman and Said Abdallah, an executive officer at the mosque, said Muslim leaders are engaging the government to introduce student loans that comply with Sharia law.

“We have raised the issue of student loans with Helb and have written to them seeking more inclusive parameters to include students of Islam faith,” Ayman said.

"We are still consulting with the loans board on the possibilities of exploring an alternatives for our Muslim students... This funding would be Sharia-compliant and overseen by a Sharia advisory committee."

Abdallah, one of the leaders involved in the discussions, said the Helb Act will need to be amended and "as you know changing the law is no easy thing.”

This, he explains, will create a window for Muslim students to access financial aid to support their education just like it was done in the UK in 2014.

Another alternative proposed to the government, he said, was creation of a special pool where Muslim students can borrow from.

Muslim students welcomed the proposals, noting they could remove the barrier to their educational aspirations.

At the moment, Ayman said, the students have been limited to relying on scholarships and bursaries, or borrowing from family and friends.

“We work with Africa Education Devolved Trust, which has been offering our students support in the last six years,” he said.

Under the new university funding model, students will receive financial aid in form of scholarships and loans based on their level of need. The students have been categorised based on their level of need; vulnerable, extremely needy, needy and less needy.

Those in vulnerable and extremely needy group will pay their tuition fees almost entirely through scholarships and loans that is payable after they get a job.

Those from well-off families will be required to pay most of their fees directly.