The Chief Guest, Amb. Simon Nabukwesi, Principal Secretary, State Department for University Education and Research, Board Members of HELB led by Chairman Hon Ekwee Ethuro, Chief Finance Officer and Director of University Education in the State Department for University Education Mr. Samuel Mugambi and Darius Mogaka respectively, University Administrators, & Students Leaders,
Invited Speakers – Dr. Kate Getao CEO ICTA, Prof. Meoli Kashorda Executive Director KENET, Prof. Ntarangwi CEO Commission for University Education, Mr. Geoffrey Monari CEO University Funding Board, Susan Mbogo Public Sector Director Intel East Africa. We are also joined by Victor Okioma MD NACADA, Dr. Ruth Masha CEO NACC and Mr. Edward Nyongesa Directorate of National Cohesion as well as a representative from National Council for Persons living with Disability and NTSA.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me thank you most sincerely for finding time to join us during the 2021 Universities Consultative forum the first hybrid conference during the pandemic period with all the protocols under strict observation. In this year’s conference we have deliberately focused on financing students in Universities to enhance the aspect of blended learning as a new norm post COVID-19. We are going to be talking about confronting the economic and financial challenges of COVID-19 – Leading and Succeeding through Digitalizing University Education.
Recalling March 2020, the country was already in economic distress before the pandemic, only to be overwhelmed by the economic contraction caused by both the pandemic and the health measures used to contain the virus, closing of schools and colleges, closing of borders, curfews, lockdowns and other movement restrictions – digitalization immediately became a way of life, from meetings to learning both at the basic level and tertiary level. Indeed, the Kenyan economy is at a fork in the road. The question then is: will policymakers take action to prevent this Great Divergence particularly in education which has exposed the great digital divide whilst Education is supposed to be an equalizer?
We applaud the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Education for the urgent measures undertaken to stimulate the education sector, the two critical action programmes relevant to Higher Education space under Post COVID19 Economic Stimulus package being;
- University Student Retention and Welfare Programme: The programme entails the following: provision of loans and bursaries to needy students; establishing a contingency capitation fund to help universities meet emergency tuition and operation costs; and providing a stimulus package for the development of student accommodation facilities in conjunction with the private sector.
- Support of Medical Training and Research in Universities and Research Institutions Programme: The programme is aimed at enhancing the capacity of public universities to provide adequate human resources to support the health sector in Kenya. This also provide support and enhance capacity for medical research and development which entails the following activities: provision of grants for biomedical research supporting 20 major research projects on Covid-19 in Kenya; upgrading of university research laboratories with modern equipment to support medical research; supporting postgraduate student training in bio-medical research; training more technicians and technologists in the medical field; undertaking reforms in the research institutions with a view of upscaling the research facilities; and, designing and implementing a project to supply laptops to university students targeting those from disadvantaged backgrounds to be implemented through collaboration with Higher Education Loans Board and the private sector.
On our part, as we respond to COVID-19 and lay the foundation for a strong recovery, the attainment of the Big4, fulfilment of Vision 2030 and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, we are committed to the youth— Youth 2030 — to build a new, and equal partnership – in the tertiary sector. Without the energy, technological savvy, optimism, and sensitivity to injustice of the youth, we have no hope of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals or implementing the Big4 Agenda. This is not only altruistic, but also realistic. Financing for Higher Education is one of the key challenges we are facing today – to make sure we have the means to realize the sustainable development goals, Vision 2030, HELB Agenda 2019-2023 and to combat decisively COVID-19 by supporting the new normal of blended learning through provision of laptops to students in universities.
I’m very pleased to report to you that in the next couple of weeks, HELB will reach the symbolically important mark of 120 billion shillings that it has provided in terms of student financing over the last 35 years when this journey started and has extended to today. Most notably, since March 2020; i.e., over the last one year of the pandemic slow down, HELB committed over 13.5B billion shillings making financial interventions to over 500,000 very vulnerable students as part of our COVID-19 support response. What this shows is that we need to be in it for the long haul, we need to be persistent, and we need to keep a sharp focus on what matters most, namely educating our YOUTH, especially in supporting the vulnerable to help in poverty reduction and human and sustainable development.
It is important that enough resources be mobilized – domestically by the partners and by the international community. Over the last couple of years, we have shown that with financial innovation and effective financial policies we can stretch our balance sheets. For example, with the most far-reaching innovations we introduced into the External Resources and self-protection unit, we have been able to increase available partners’ resources by over 1000% to Ksh 1.4 billion. The Board, staff and management will continue to work with the partners to align our finances and deliver on the local and international students financing frameworks.
Last fiscal year the Board had its largest lending program ever – at Ksh 15.5 billion, complemented by such partners as ABSA, USAID, Council for Legal Education, Kenya School of Law among others. And we are scaling up – this during the fiscal year ending June 2021, our ambition as HELB is to provide between Kshs 18 to 19 billion in student financing by 2022.
We are committed to build a sound partnership for and with the youth who are already in the business of changing the world. This partnership is focused on building resources and networks to support the youth and help realize their dreams. We are calling for every youth, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, and ability, to be able to connect to the internet and access opportunities for education, training, and entrepreneurship. We at HELB are burning our midnight oil to tap resources to enable students acquire laptops to be included in the new blended learning. Further, it serves as a vehicle, to advance key initiatives such as the Digital Ajira programme, which aims to ensure that every youth is connected to the Internet and has a gadget as part of our Road Map on Digital Cooperation and inclusivity.
All of us have a generational opportunity to reimagine education for the fourth industrial revolution, We have made a strong start with universities and colleges developing modern, training programmes, relevant curricula, digitalized faculties and skills for innovative education. Public, private, and civil society sector partners, and United Nations agencies are coming together with the youth to scale up initiatives and innovations, creating greater impact. The youth today are not keen on employment but on creating employment channels through online digital financial services, virtual meetings and events that have taken center stage in lives and livelihoods countrywide post COVID19.
Today, we can articulate the COVID-19 vaccine is in the country. However, we should appreciate that online classes in our universities is the next frontier when it comes to learning.
We have 9 years left to achieve the Vision 2030 and so, we have no time to lose. Over the next 12 months, we need to strengthen links across sectors and rally investment for the ambitious goal of connecting a respectable student population to opportunities. We need intensive commitment of financial and political resources by both private and public institutions. We need the private sector to invest in shared-value partnerships and foundations to provide catalytic funding.
Looking at the programme for the two-day conference, we will begin on day 1 with exploring ways to take this mission of student financing to the next level. We shall be looking at the policy reforms by the Ministry of Education in financing of University – Science Technology and Innovation (STI) sub-sector and making Kenya a knowledge-based economy. We will also dig deeper to the Digital landscape with an incline to university education and the post COVID-19 transformation of Higher Learning Institutions. Further, we will be sensitized on the evaluation and accreditation policy reforms taken to accommodate the transformations mentioned above, review of the differentiated cost of courses and other cost efficiency measures.
In the afternoon, to feature prominently, are the laptop project and other support programmes, global perspective of digitalization going forward, and our unity of purpose to keep safe from any harm be it on the roads, physically or mentally.
On day 2, we will delve into relationships by key stakeholders and communities; whom are majorly HELB, Student fraternity and the Higher Learning Institution Leadership. And as the forum tends to a close, we will wrap up the resolutions and action points to journey us through the next two years with a clear implementation road map.
Historically, employers focus heavily on educational background when reviewing resumes and interviewing job candidates. It is time to shift that mindset. Skills are changing so rapidly that no curriculum can keep up. It is time to focus on candidates who are constantly learning and upskilling through resources like online learning. In this new world, what matters more than skills is the ability to demonstrate competency and a willingness to commit selves to lifelong learning. Technology is doing a great job at lowering time and space barriers to education—and lowering costs. Online elements woven into the fabric of university life improve the quality of the learning experience and outcomes. There are fascinating possibilities with applying Artificial Intelligence to provide advanced tutoring and support, adaptive platforms to personalize learning processes, and applications of the science of learning to instructional design. At the same time, developing meaningful connections with peers and teachers, as well as brilliant minds is equally good because this will provide essential experiences and guidance. The blend of these elements will, I hope, enable the learner to thrive and contribute to tomorrow’s economy and society.
We understand that the long-term damage that the twin shocks of college and university closures and economic recession could do to education outcomes, and it is argued that averting the damage requires an aggressive policy response in three phases: (i) Coping, to reduce learning loss while colleges are closed; (ii) Managing Continuity, to promote learning recovery as colleges reopen; and (iii) Improving and Accelerating, to use the innovative policy responses from the earlier phases to make education systems stronger and more inclusive than in the pre-COVID period. You will note that HELB through the laptop project is passionate about improving and accelerating the post COVID recovery. As we will hear from ICTA and KENET, important advances are being made in digital connectivity by respective institutions; one benefit is the ability of the government to reach some of the humble households with support payments through the social welfare programmes. More needs to be done to improve digital infrastructure, an important part of our work where we hope to see advances.
In all these efforts, I urge all stakeholders herein to play their full part, through technology, know-how, leadership, or finance, so that every higher learning institution and community is connected to the Internet, and every young person has access to education, training, and opportunities to fulfil their potential. I welcome all the young leaders and change-makers joining our conversation today and look forward to hearing their views. I particularly encourage our youth and persons living with disability to speak up, innovate as the future of our country rests on you.
We are acting. But we need to do more. We need your solidarity and your financial support for the needy students who are struggling as you have seen on various media platforms.
Thank you again for joining today!
It is my singular honor to welcome the Chairman Higher Education Loans Board Hon. Ekwee Ethuro to make his welcoming remarks and thereafter invite the Chief Guest Principal Secretary, State Department for University Education & Research Amb. Simon Nabukwesi.