After Kenya’s Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) announced a strategy to recover US$120 million in unpaid student loans, concerns for a sector facing extreme financial hardship were rapidly on the rise.  Now after months of uncertainty, Kenya’s university system has received a much-needed lift, with public universities in the region getting set to receive an eight percent rise in Government funding – more than double the figure that had previously been promised.

The funding will greatly improve the Kenyan student experience, with newly implemented Government policies and fiscal measures to significantly increase internship opportunities for students in the region.

The nation’s treasury will now give tax exemptions on apprentice emoluments to employers who engage at least 10 graduates, University World News reports.

According to Henry Rotich, Cabinet Secretary for the Kenyan National Treasury, the scheme will serve as an incentive for local employers to invest in recent graduates. Previously, employer-paid tax for internship salaries discouraged firms from investing in new university graduates, but participating companies will now pay much lower corporate taxes thanks to the new Government funding scheme.

Another benefit of the new strategy is that interns will receive an allowance to cover expenses and upkeep throughout their entire employment period.

“The internship scheme is expected to boost the skills set for graduates who have no work experience to help secure meaningful jobs,” writes University World News, noting that regional employers are increasingly shunning new graduates, dangerously contributing to the growing youth unemployment problem burdening Kenya and other East African nations.

In 2014, 51 percent of Kenya’s recent graduates were deemed unfit for work, according to a study by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA). The same data showed figures to be even higher in various regions of East Africa, with 52 percent of Rwanda’s recent graduates branded unsuitable for the jobs market, alongside 55 percent in Burundi, 61 percent in Tanzania and 63 percent in Uganda.

The scheme also hopes to aid the expansion of Kenya’s higher education sector, with the education ministry expecting university enrolments to significantly increase from this year’s 32,776 to 147,687 by 2018, citing factors such as rising student numbers and increased accessibility to loans as causes of the projected inflation.

The Treasury believes growth comes as a result of accelerated intake as well as the development of infrastructure at various public universities, adding that rates of enrolment and retention have already received a boost thanks to increased accessibility to funding for the most deprived prospective students in Kenya.

But in its most recent budget policy paper, the Treasury points out that Kenya’s higher education sector still has a long way to go, citing things like dilapidated infrastructure, a lack of modern ICT facilities, lecturer shortages and legislative limitations as challenges the system desperately needs to overcome. The adoption of e-procurement processes also slowed down work progress in the sector, University World News reports.

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