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Health & Fitness

The surgery Kenya needs for right varsity funding

Higher Education Loans Board
Students and parents return loan application forms at the Higher Education Loans Board offices in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A US crisis around financing of university training has reignited debate on student college loans globally. Among doctors in particular, because, together with engineers, training consumes huge amounts of funds.

With close to a quarter of the doctor fraternity not in clinical practice, the reasons this is happening ties in to the debate about lowering doctors’ fees.

Closer home, disaster is brewing, with the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) reporting close to Sh 6 billion deficit in its disbursement needs.

Public universities are in dire financial straits occasioned by the double blow of Treasury’s reduced allocation and closure of their “parallel degrees” affiliate colleges. The latter perhaps justified for anyone who values academic rigour.

A dilution in standards from an uncontrolled quest for university degrees did occur. However, this wasn’t just in regular courses, but even in medical school. The root cause of this is low government funding.

Bad student/teacher ratios affect the quality of training. At one point my alma mater had close to 600 students in an academic year, with no equal increase in lecturers or teaching facilities. The ideal number should not go above 300.

To work around their budget deficits, universities are shifting the source of funding from government to students via higher fees.

Locally however, fees have remained stable over time. Yet they are insufficient.

Fixing the challenge requires an interplay between actual student fees adjustment and a government rise in allocation. However, a correlation between the economy, unemployment and loans exists.

Critics argue that raising fees affects enrolment and completion, but on the other hand there is a direct correlation with quality of education and funding.

To raise the quality of training, either the government pays, or students will have to finance the cost.

Further abroad, the US’s traditionally expensive college training financing is struggling under a choking student debt crisis.

A crazy proposal where students are funded by external parties who later recover it as a percentage of their salaries is one avenue mooted.

Think of it as a “student sponsor” only this time, the repayment is monetary.

There is a need to raise funding to colleges. Universities, however, must be leaner and stick to their core activities while asking alumni to fund fellow “comrades”.

Opportunity also arises from the crisis for pension funds and other fund managers to step in.

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