Government Urged to Invest in public varsities. — HELB CEO

Higher Education Loans Board CEO Charles Ringera has urged the new government to invest in public universities.

Ringera said this will be a solution to the public universities instead of having new ones.

The chief executive gave his sentiments on the workability of some pledges in the Kenya Kwanza manifesto.

Ringera was speaking during a conference with uniiversities vice-chancellors in Mombasa.

The conference brings together various state agencies under the State Department of University Education and Research.

The Helb chief said that the pledge to have technical public universities in every region might be costly.

He suggested that the President William Ruto-led government should invest in the three available institutions instead of setting up others.

“The Kenya Kwanza administration will work progressively to have one university in each of the remaining counties,” the charter reads.

Ruto has promised that the technical universities will also serve as regional incubation and innovation centres.

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“Why are we opening more public universities yet the ones we have are not fully occupied,” he said.

Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua also pledged to have an open university in the country.

But Ringera said all universities in Kenya should be described as ‘open.’

An open university has an open-door academic policy, with minimal or no entry requirements.

They may employ specific teaching methods, such as open-supported learning or distance learning.

“Even you guys are on open university because people are studying online so why are you opening another university,” he said.

Ringera said there is need to equip the current public universities instead of building new ones.

He said that the current universities have enough capacity to host more students.

“Again we are opening more public universities yet the ones we have are not fully occupied. Can we try to occupy these universities before we think of an open university?” he said.

Ringera added that the proposal by the Kenya Kwanza government to offer interest-free loans to university students might be costly.

Ruto promised to restructure Helb to offer interest-free loans.

Ringera said in the financial year 2021-22, Helb was able to fund 347,166 students to the tune of Sh14.8 billion.

“Of these students, 106,048 were from TVETs at Sh3.9 billion, we still have some 35,137 unfunded students,” Ringera said.

He said there is a board mandated to offer grants to university students.

“We already have the Universities Funding Board which provides funds for financing universities, ” he said.

According to the law, the main mandate of the board is to develop detailed institutional funding criteria, as well as apportion and disburse all government funding.

The agency is also mandated to monitor the utilisation and impact of the funds by the recipient universities.

In terms of funding to universities, Ringera said the institutions are already burdened with debts and unremitted statutory deductions.

“We have pending bills in the universities of up to almost Sh65 million. What do we do to that?” he said.

While outlining the way forward for Helb, he said public universities should be given realistic targets in the collection of revenue.

Ringera said universities cannot collect any Appropriation in Aid (A in A) funds when students are on break.

“There is no school fees that is going to be paid and you are telling universities to do an A in A of Sh12 billion, he said.

Helb made the highest collection in 2021 at Sh5.2 billion, and from the Covid-19 penalty waiver, the board recovered Sh550 million.

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