For graduates, HELB loans are a trail of tears.
Even when employed, graduates may not be able to afford to pay back, given that the pirate (otherwise known as private) sector is exploiting students in the name of internships for them to have job experience. New graduates are basically subsidizing companies by working for free, and even when they are paid, they are paid such low salaries which cannot cover their living expenses plus the loan. Other employers demand that the potential employees produce proof of clearing their student loan as a condition for employment, which does not make sense unless they are trying to avoid being in the radar of KRA, since it is the individual paying the loan back.
The government and HELB claim that these draconian measures are designed to generate funds for other students to go to university. However, the model of funding education in and of itself is wrong and is evidence of a government that has become woefully incompetent.
The fundamental problem of this Jubilee government is that it is treating education as a product to sell, rather than as a service to provide. The government has essentially turned itself into a business which provides education, hence education is not a service funded by taxpayers but a product that must fund itself, and the role of the government is simply to be the police who enforce payment by graduates.
The reason why education is a service, and not a product like clothes to sell, is because education is about people. Making people owe the government for being educated is the same as asking them to pay for being born. Education is what makes us human beings who live in dignity, and that is why education is an inalienable right. There is no nation, no society, no humanity without education.
The goal of education is higher than the money graduates generate, whether we are employed, in business or at home. Ideally, education should make us better citizens, better parents, better people who innovate solutions to social issues, which would mean that we would spend less on preventing issues like crime and preventable illnesses.
So when the Jubilee government reduces education to a product for which students have to pay, it means that the government has no idea what education is. Worse, it has no idea what a government is for and why we pay taxes. We pay taxes for government to provide services. The idea of government is to pull our resources together. Instead of each of us building an entire school for our own children, the government uses our taxes to build common schools to educate all children.
HELB is therefore a symptom of the government’s failure to think like a government, and its decision to think like a business. This comes as no surprise, given the anti-constitutional Vision 2030 that reduces Kenya to a business.
In fact, HELB runs as a private entity but with state powers. Its investment and debt collection tactics belong entirely to the private sector, especially after the Board decided to share its credit information with private credit information sharing entities. Graduates talk of being followed by private debt collectors to pay back their loans.
However, while HELB’s operations are private sector led, the infrastructure HELB uses to enforce them is wholly government. That is why the CS of Education would threaten defaulters not with debt-collectors, but with arrest by the police, a statement that was later explained as being taken out of context. However, being misquoted is such a weak response, especially when the same government has privatized prisons, and so the risk of graduates becoming cheap prison labor for private sector, and of government incarcerating people to make money, remains very high.
HELB’s private-sector tactics are evident in the HELB Act (2014) which talks of the board investing “surplus funds” in other profit-making ventures, presumably all private. This clause opens the Board to corrupt deals with private sector, where government puts the money in risky ventures of well-connected corporations without exercising due diligence.
Secondly, it makes no sense for the government to be talking of “surplus funds” when the tertiary institutions in which the students are learning are cash strapped and struggling to give students a decent education. How can Vice-Chancellors of public universities be talking of tripling fees, when HELB is expecting to make profits? If anything, the role of the government should be to plough back excess funds back into the tertiary institutions to keep the fees low, rather than putting the funds into private, profit making schemes, while education fees sky-rocket. The disconnect between HELB and educational institutions also means that the government is shirking the responsibility to provide education, and is instead making education entirely the responsibility of individual students, albeit in advance.
The same principle applies to the Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives from HELB. CSR is supposed to be made up of initiatives from the private sector to mitigate where government services, such as education, have failed to reach citizens. Therefore, it is a contradiction for HELB as government to be using funds to mitigate the government’s failure to provide the same services, especially when the majority of those who borrow loans from HELB do so because they lack the financial capacity to pay their own fees.
HELB should have no money for CSR or for investment. If it does, it means that the government is doing its revenue collection or expenditure so badly, that it is failing to educate its youth.
Another sign of the private sector mentality of government is in the recent launch of the HELB strategic plan, private-sector style, in one of the more expensive hotels in Nairobi, the same event at which the CS promised to arrest loan defaulters.
It makes no sense for a department of the government to have a strategic plan. As far as citizens are concerned, we need only ONE strategic plan from the government, and that is the one provided by the president who was supposedly elected on the basis that he had one. However, what has happened is that parastatal heads have been allowed to become mini-presidents, all of them launching strategic plans at private sector standards, while at the same time having no money to fund actual services supposed to be provided by government.
And to add insult to injury, at the same event, HELB received its ISO certification. In other words, government systems are no longer running government. It’s private sector systems doing it.
If funding for government services comes from our taxes, our taxes should fund all these services without government asking for an additional coin from us. The government's job is to put in place an economy that allows everybody, not just graduates, to generate wealth for the country, and the revenue from that wealth is what gives GoK money to provide services. But government should not be using pirate-hustler economics to get money from users of the services to fund the same services. And in the case of HELB, the government is not even using the money to fund higher education so that the fees remain low. It is, instead, using the money to make more money and more money, as graduates suffer from the shackles of debt.
We, the Kenyan people, need to demand a real government which knows what government is, not a private sector that uses the tools of the state to increase money but offer no improvement in social services to its people. That means affirming that graduates cannot owe government for being educated. It's the government that owes citizens to educate them, since that's what we pay taxes for.
If the government has no money to fund universities, it should first tell us why our taxes are not stretching far enough. The taxes we pay are for our children to get educated, not to loan money to our children to get educated.
Lastly, if the citizens are not generating enough economic wealth for government to have revenue to provide services like education, then the government is failing in its job to create an enabling working environment. It means that we Kenyans need to get a president who can run an actual government, not one who runs government as a side hustle to his family’s business interests.