Bursary system broken, needs drastic overhaul

Monday, February 12th, 2024 11:19 | By
Nakuru West MP Samuel Arama. PHOTO/Print
Nakuru West MP Samuel Arama. PHOTO/Print

Three things illustrate just how badly broken the system of bursaries in Kenya is.

First is Nakuru West MP Samuel Arama angrily chasing away multitudes of parents who had queued outside his office for the whole day to access bursary forms. He dismissed them as idlers and asked them to go to work.

Secondly, the government announced that over 130,000 Form One pupils are still at home and were yet to report to school weeks after their colleagues started learning.

Thirdly, a stampede last year in Githurai, Nairobi, by parents scrambling for bursary forms left a father of two dead, and several others injured.

Something has gone terribly awry with how bursaries are awarded. Of utmost importance is the question – with all the billions that are allocated every year to bursaries, how come it is the poor children, the very supposed beneficiaries, that are not benefitting?

Worse, despite these billions, poor children are still being chased away from school habitually because of school fees!

The national government has the Elimu Scholarship Programme where it sponsors 18,000 Form One students annually, while the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) received Sh10 billion for bursaries in 2024.

Counties allocate hundreds of millions every year for bursaries, with the Nairobi City County this year alone allocating Sh1 billion.

Over and above the public bursary system, there is a very vibrant privately funded and managed bursary scheme ecosystem.

With the country awash with bursary funds, why are students from underprivileged backgrounds stuck at home for lack of fees? Who is benefitting from these bursaries?

The whole system needs a drastic overhaul.

First, there is need for transparency in bursary awards. Who are the recipients, how much was awarded, and their schools. How such a massive slush fund has been left to the whims of capricious politicians and bureaucrats with zero oversight is a critical failure.

Urgently create a database into which details of all bursary recipients, whether from the public coffers or private sources, are uploaded in realtime. A national tracker for bursaries in Kenya is long overdue. Currently, the country has no clue what is happening to bursaries.

Second, for the publicly funded bursaries, a national register should be established and updated every bursary season. This register should be audited every year by the Auditor General to determine recipients, amounts, and whether they were “deserving”.

Third, remove politicians from the management of bursaries. It has become a political tool. They use it for political manipulation, payback for political support, and political punishment.

Kenya has witnessed as simple an exercise as handing over of cheques to beneficiaries turning into a full scale political war!

Further, more stringent means testing is a must. The system is now sheer chaos with widespread abuse. The noble objectives for which it was set up have been all but buried.

The system needs to be revamped. Currently it is so undignified and very demeaning to parents. Forms should be downloaded from E-Citizen. Parents should only go to the bursary offices only to submit the forms.

Send the bursary funds directly to schools. Parents should simply receive a notification on their phones via SMS. Stop this circus of handing over cheques in huge media events which only serve as occasions for personal aggrandizement for politicians.

To reboot the system, a major audit must be undertaken of all the bursaries awarded by the national and county governments, and CDF in the last five years. The audit should unearth who received the bursaries, whether the money was actually disbursed, whether the stated bursary amounts were awarded, that no funds were diverted, and recommend reforms to get the system to work.

Finally, when did Kenyans lose their pride that financially able parents are now battling it out with desperately poor parents for bursaries? Able parents are gaming the system to get bursaries through lies, fraud and political favouritism, outmuscling desperately poor parents for whom the bursaries were meant. It is such a shame!

[email protected]

More on Opinion