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Could Kenya See US-Style Student Loans?

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An article in today’s Business Daily Africa highlights the problems faced by many universities and their students and graduates over the cost of fees. Students are chafing under the yoke of fees that have increased dramatically in recent years, while university managers insist that they have to collect lump sum payments in order to guarantee the effective running of their institutions.

After primary school, education in Kenya can be a cripplingly expensive affair for some families, and it’s understandable that many may have trouble scraping together the full amount of fees by the beginning of term. One alternative would be for fees to be collected in monthly installments, but this presupposes that university finances are managed efficiently enough to cope with a slow trickle of funds rather than hefty installments.

In the US, the financing of student loans is handed over to private enterprises, who collect payment from students after graduation, even garnishing their wages by a set amount each month once they start working. Could such a solution work for Kenya? Students would be guaranteed payment of fees, universitites would get their money, and the burden of payment would only kick in once a graduate was earning.

Of course, there are difficulties. Most students pay off their student loans because they don’t want defaults highlighted on their credit files, which we in Kenya are currently unburdened by. In addition, the automatic collection of loan payments depends on a degree of interconnectivity between loan companies, banks, university systems and employers’ payrolls. I think Kenya is still a while off from that.

Nevertheless, it is an avenue worth exploring. Kenya needs skilled and competent graduates to fill jobs, and not everyone has the means or the opportunity to study abroad. If higher education is going to be accessible to all, there needs to be a fundamental rethink of how it is financed.

[Image by JackHynes]

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