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A Struggle For Access To Higher Education

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The rising cost of university education has far-reaching consequences, affecting not only students and their families but also the country’s development prospects. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the increase in university fees in Kenya and the implications for students, society, and the nation as a whole. Students in public universities across Kenya could pay more fees to access education if the recommendations by the presidential working party on education reforms are to be implemented.

Vice-chancellors have revived the petition to increase tuition fees in public universities in the latest efforts to keep the institutions afloat.

A memo from the Ministry of Education has revealed the push by the top university administrators for the upward review of fees in the next intake of first years.

The memo follows a meeting of vice-chancellors on September 23 that sought policy options to ensure financial sustainability of the universities as some rely on short-term loans to finance their operations.

The officials had earlier proposed that tuition fees be increased to Sh48,000 from the current Sh16,000 for fresh students to ease cash flow challenges that have affected service delivery. The Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms is proposing a significant increase of 225% in fees paid by government-sponsored students in public universities.

According to the team, from the 2018/2019 academic year to the 2022/2023 academic year, the government failed to fund public universities with a total amount of Ksh164 billion while private universities recorded a shortfall of Ksh56.96 billion in funding. 

Moreover, the task-force further appealed to the government to write off the huge debts owed by the universities to statutory bodies. This increase is being proposed to address the financial constraints faced by universities, make adjustments for inflation and to improve the quality of education offered. The idea is that the increase in fees will provide universities with the funds they need to improve facilities and resources available to students, as well as to respond to the cumulative effects of inflation.

The Ksh 16,000 per semester average tuition fees were introduced in Kenya’s higher education system in 1991 after an education scheme that received substantial support but had minimal recovery. In 1995, the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) was established to provide loans for students who couldn’t afford tuition fees. Since 1991, the tuition fees have been kept at the nominal amount of Ksh 16,000 per semester. The recent proposal to increase the tuition fees to Ksh 52,000 per semester marks the first significant increase since 1991.  The higher education system in Kenya faces various challenges, such as limited funding, insufficient resources and facilities.

While advocating for the fee increment, the taskforce is also asking the government to increase its funding of education at university level, which currently falls below the institutions’ needs.

The increase in university fees in Kenya has significant implications for students and society as a whole. Firstly, it places a heavy financial strain on students and their families, forcing many aspiring university students to make a difficult choice between pursuing higher education and meeting their basic needs. Unfortunately, this financial burden means that some exceptionally talented individuals are denied the opportunity to further their education due to financial constraints.

Additionally, the rise in university fees has led to an increased student loan burden. To cope with the soaring tuition costs, many students are compelled to take out loans to finance their education. This results in a substantial increase in student loan debt, which can take years, if not decades, to repay. Such high levels of student loan debt have long-term economic implications, affecting graduates’ ability to save, invest, and contribute to the economy.

Furthermore, the escalating cost of university education exacerbates existing inequalities within Kenya’s education system. Wealthier students are better positioned to afford these higher fees, while those from disadvantaged backgrounds face a greater struggle to access higher education. This perpetuates a cycle of inequality, limiting social mobility and hindering the nation’s overall development.

Additionally, the lack of access to higher education for a significant portion of the population can lead to social unrest and dissatisfaction. Discontented youth, unable to find opportunities for personal growth and development, may become susceptible to radicalization and engage in activities detrimental to society.

To address these challenges, potential solutions include increasing government funding for higher education to reduce reliance on tuition fees, establishing scholarship programs for underprivileged students to ensure access to education, and encouraging universities to explore cost reduction measures, such as streamlining administrative processes and seeking alternative sources of revenue.

In conclusion, the rising university fees in Kenya present a multifaceted issue with profound implications for students, society, and the nation’s development prospects. Finding a balanced approach that ensures access to higher education for all, while addressing the financial challenges faced by universities, is crucial for fostering a more equitable and prosperous future for the nation.

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