State should make university education affordable for poor

United States International University-Africa (USIU-A) graduates receive their awards during last year's graduation. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The state should rethink the new model of financing university education since it will disadvantage students from poor backgrounds. When a clear criterion is not in place to ascertain the neediest cases, then we know that the system is prone to manipulation and abuse.

I learnt that the new model stipulates that the level of funding for each student will depend on the monthly household income and that each student will individually apply for the scholarship and loans after receiving admission letters. The fact that the new model will seek to channel higher education assistance directly to individual students based on carefully curated criteria is a recipe to abuse and a manipulation that risks leaving bright but needy students out of funding.

The move to categorise those seeking financial assistance to fund their education into four clusters (the vulnerable, extremely needy, needy and less needy) might be excellent, but knowing about rampant corruption and maladministration in Kenya’s public entities, the model is not likely to work as envisioned. The new reasoning that students falling under the vulnerable and extremely needy band will qualify for 100 percent government funding for their studies with the money coming as scholarships and loans, and those deemed to be needy and less needy will get 93 percent government funding, with the students bearing seven percent of the tuition costs needs to be examined afresh for it to achieve the intended goals.

If we are serious about bridging the gap between the poor and the rich in this country, then our education shouldn’t be expensive for the poor. The effects of poverty on children are wide-reaching and can lead to lifelong struggles, especially when young people don’t receive full education. It is worth noting that poverty and education are inextricably linked, because people living in poverty may stop going to school so they can work, which leaves them without literacy and numeracy skills they need to further their careers. Their children, in turn, are in a similar situation years later, with little income and few options but to leave school and work.

A good university education model should help families escape the cycle of poverty. The government should prioritise adequate funding of university and tertiary education as it determines the state of employability of graduates in the country. If we decide to make education expensive for the poor like some countries’ that spend a lower share of their gross domestic product (GDP) on education, we will make public education less available (particularly to the poor) and of lower quality.

A good government should be aware that education can be the catalyst needed to pull families and communities out of the cycle of poverty. Knowledge gives children the power to dream of a better future and the confidence needed to pursue a full education, which in turn will help generations to come. Education also makes a significant difference for adults, particularly when it applies to day-to-day life, including nutrition, healthcare and gender equity. When adults learn, they become role models to their children, who also wish to learn.

Dr Gogo is MP for Rangwe Constituency