• Higher Education Loans Board seeks Sh2.5 billion from Treasury to provide loans to freshmen for at least 60,000 laptops.
• Since schools closed in March, online learning has been emphasised for social distancing but many students don't have laptops.
The Higher Education Loans Board wants to provide at least 60,000 laptops to new government-sponsored students.
It has requested the Treasury provide about Sh2.5 billion for the project.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic forced closure of schools and universities in March, online long-distance learning has been emphasised.
Many students, however, cannot afford computers.
Helb CEO Charles Ringera first introduced the idea to facilitate online learning instead of in-person classroom learning in which the virus can be spread.
If approved by the Treasury, about 60,000 students next year will be able to apply a portion of their Helb loan to buy a laptop.
The new normal is e-learning. A number of universities have resumed teaching and learning online.
"This blended learning is the way to go into the future," Ringera said. "The loans mean students can stop using small devices like mobile phones and at least use laptops."
If the Treasury approves.
Laptops can also help them do online work for income, he said.
The proposal is for half of those joining university as first years – at least 61,000 — to get the laptop loan.
Postgraduate students and diploma students are not currently eligible.
If universities could offer more online courses, they would reduce operating expenses and could register many more students.
The laptop loan request comes as public universities are pushing to increase fees from the current Sh16,000 to Sh48,000.
Ringera said increased fees will mean increased loans advanced to the students.
He said Helb has requested an estimated Sh6.2 billion to cover the shortfall witnessed this year from various changes.
They include the deficit from loan recoveries due to inability of beneficiaries to repay due to the Covid pandemic and inability to find employment. Helb will need Sh1.7 billion.
The increased fees will mean the board will require Sh14 billion to allow students to borrow for the increased fees, Ringera said.
He said that because of the pandemic, Helb has been forced to lower the loan amounts offered to students from about Sh45,000 to Sh37,000.
Helb estimates show a student needs an annual budget of about Sh200,000 to be comfortable.
“Given that Helb provides about Sh37,000 currently, that means students or households have to raise another Sh162,000," Ringera said.
(Edited by V. Graham)