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Kenya: Overhaul in Higher Education Finance Supported by New Report

Professor Wandiga sat on the UEFT

The current Kenyan cost-sharing system of public university funding has been faulted in a report from the Ministry of Higher Education, Science & Technology. The report was prepared by a University Education Financing Team (UEFT) composed of Kenyan and international experts in higher education finance, governance and policy.

The report, entitled “Financing University Education in Kenya”, unveiled the government response to the increasing number of students qualifying for university admission every passing year. Universities have been expected to increase the quality of higher education toward a knowledge driven economy as outlined in Vision 2030.

Lack of a rationalized policy, the report argues, will prevent the country from benefiting from higher education, particularly in bridging the gap between the poor and the rich.

The current policy derives a relatively consistent portion of the required university operating revenue from parents and students through loans. This has been identified as the weakness in the current university funding system in Kenya.

“What is especially lacking is such a policy that is efficient, equitable, and sufficient to the vast and swiftly increasing revenue needs of Kenya’s university system,” the report says.

It adds, “the current system in Kenya provides a measure of what has come to be known internationally as cost-sharing. It derives this indispensable revenue stream disproportionally from what has been variously described as the self–sponsored, or parallel, track of module II students. This policy is widely described as inefficient in that it derives most of the cost-sharing revenue only from some students, whose parents are pushed hard to contribute quite high tuition fees, while foregoing revenue that would be clearly be forthcoming from at least some of the parents of the Module I students who are getting a nearly free higher education plus access to greatly subsided catering and accommodation services.”

These costly subsidies – which of course have opportunity costs in the form of revenues that are unavailable for additional means-tested financial assistance, or for more academic staff, or for the improvement of infrastructure – are given on the basis not of financial need, but on the basis of student performance, mainly on a single examination.

While these subsidies satisfy an understandable political desire to reward past secondary school achievement, research indicates that such subsidies do very little to change student behaviour or opportunities. Students from able families will go on to universities whether or not they are given an essentially free ride. However, sufficient grant and loan assistance is necessary to assist those whose families are unable to contribute to the necessary expenses of higher education.

The current dual track admission system is also grossly inefficient in that the students who are approved for Module I must wait for two years before they can be admitted. This is according to the National Strategy for University Education – a task force that was chaired by former University of Nairobi, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Prof Shem Wandiga.

“This imposes enormous costs on the students and to the economy, while serving no apparent purpose other than to delay entry and disguise the lack of university capacity,” the report pointed out.

For this reason, the system of of allocating current university revenue from the government based on the number of Module I students is also widely regarded as inequitable in that it perpetuates a system of rewarding students who are disproportionately from the middle and upper middle income classes, many of whose parents could contribute at least a modest tuition fee.

It’s for this reason that double intake is being proposed for this year to clear a backlog of new admissions before the highest number of the free primary education beneficiaries join university in 2015.

The report further states that the current system charges very high tuition fees to those students scoring just below the cut-off.

More seriously, the report says the system does nothing at all for academically deserving students from poor families, who are disproportionately likely to have attended secondary school with less resources and have scored below the cut-off used to allocate the still relatively small number of government sponsorships, but whose parents cannot afford the high fees of the self-financed track.

The cost-sharing system offers very low tuition fees, the report states the continuation of highly subsidized student loans for many students and families who could contribute much more to the expensive and highly valued university education – is simply insufficient to raise the amount of revenue that is needed for the planned expansion of the Kenyan university system.

Higher fees for catering and accommodation together with higher tuition fees will not be popular, and furthermore will require additional student lending – which is not without additional cost to the government.

However, the additional revenue from the students and parents in the form of higher tuition fees for all students, non–subsidized institutionally – and governmentally – provided catering and accommodation services, and improved recovery rates on the students lending can augment the necessary increases in the government revenue to achieve the goals of increased university capacity, quality and accessibility.

About Robert Okemwa Onsare

Robert Okemwa Onsare
Robert Onsare is pursuing Electronics Technology at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. He is a Cluster Strategy trained facilitator by Kenya's National Economic and Social Council (NESC). Mr Onsare has been an incubation student at the University of Nairobi, School of Engineering, FabLab, a venture project of the university and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is a member of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) and a published poet. Mr Onsare is based in Kenya.

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