Under-age university and college students will receive loans from the government, if a bill before the National Assembly becomes law.

It seeks to enforce a radical shift in the disbursement of study loans by the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb), allowing students who are yet to attain 18 years to benefit from the funds.

With an increasing number of learners transiting from high school to university and tertiary colleges before they are 18, the government has found itself under fire in the past for failing to accommodate them in the provision of the loans.

In Kenya, one has to be 18 years to be legally considered an adult and to qualify for an National Identification card.

Eligible students

Helb makes it mandatory for one to present their ID before they are considered for the loans, a rule that has frustrated thousands of learners who clear secondary education before turning 18.

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The bill, sponsored by Chepalungu MP Gideon Koske, seeks to cure this as it clears the way for all eligible students to apply for the loans.

It aims to amend the Helb Act to expressly provide that the board shall not deny a loan to a student who has not attained 18 years.

“This will ensure that university students who have not attained the age of 18 and who do not have the national ID cards are allowed access to the higher education loans.

The amendment will thus ensure the access to loans of all eligible university students despite their age,” says the Bill set for First Reading in the House.

To cushion against loss of funds, this group of young learners will be required to ask their parents or guardians to be their loan guarantors.

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“…any student who applies for an education loan and who is under the age of 18, shall be required to have his or her parents or guardian as co-signatories to the loan agreement so as to ensure the validity of the loan agreement,” adds the Bill which has been lined up for introduction when the House resumes from the December recess.

Helb chief executive officer Charles Ringera yesterday said he was not in a position to give a comprehensive response saying they would wait until the parliamentary process is over.

“Can’t comment now until the passage of the bill. We’ll then study it and get an implementation report plan,” he said.

Huge demand

The board is facing a huge demand for loans, following rising number of students qualifying for university education.

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It has also expanded its loans base to those in middle-level colleges; a venture that has presented an extra challenge to the parastatal-whose main source of income is the exchequer and loan repayments.

The Bill comes in the wake of a hardline stance by the Ministry of Education on who qualifies for the students’ loans.

Recently, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha ruled out any possibility of adjusting existing rules to provide loans for underage students.

“The law of contract constrains persons under 18 from entering into a contractual agreement, including loan deals.

This poses a risk of non-recovery of loans disbursed to minors, as disputes may arise on account of contravening provisions of Law of Contract Act,” the CS told House team.

He said issuing the under 18 students with loans will be a setback.

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