Upkeep stipend much needed for varsity students

University students camping outside the National Treasury during a peaceful demonstration to push for immediate release of HELB funds. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The ensuing confusion about higher education funding is the latest in a list of initiatives that, though well intended, has not been implemented properly.

When I wrote about this last week, I was more concerned about the financial burden that would eventually fall on prospective students now and in future, when loans become due for payment.

Even so, I sincerely wished the government would find a way of tailoring the new model to meet both financial needs of higher education institutions and educational needs of Kenyans.

However, the admission that only 30 per cent of students have applied for funding successfully, reveals a deeper problem; that the programme was hurriedly implemented without adequate technical resources and measures. More importantly, the implementers have failed to respond to the feedback given.

While we commend the Ministry of Education for giving necessary directions for admission next week, I still expect many will have a hard time.

In the new system, it seems students may never have direct access to loans. If that is the case, it would be unfortunate because, that is what many students in the old system depended on even for upkeep. In short, it was not just 100 per cent funding as it is for the vulnerable but went beyond. HELB submitted part of the money directly to the university and let students spend the rest as they wanted. Our older relatives had more interesting tales of the fund they nicknamed ‘boom’. It was nicknamed so because of the impact the money had on students, especially from poor backgrounds. Then, as opposed to now, they were assured of a salary at the end of their studies and their potential to pay back was never a bother. Today, things are different hence the need to relook at the efficiency and affordability of the funding system. Students in universities need more than just tuition.

Many will find accommodation outside university precincts. With no access to the university mess, their expenditures will be higher. The joy of gaining university admission had faded over the lack of jobs. Now, it will disappear for the costs and bottlenecks involved.

Even without the assurance of a job, being a government-sponsored student in a university is a beautiful experience. This is where a child of privilege and a son of peasant get equalised. Being a government-sponsored university is a badge of honour parents and their children alike invest in.

It is a promise of relief as the child is handed over to the state to educate and prepare for service to people; either in private or public sector. Even amid the dark cloud of lack of jobs, the government must invest in incentives that push our children to chase excellence. That includes a little stipend for upkeep.

The writer is anchor at Radio Maisha