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27 Apr 2023

Event highlights: CIES Panel - Innovative Financing for Tertiary Education in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sunday 19 February 2023

16:45 – 18:15 (EST/Washington D.C.)

Chair: Arushi Terway

Panellists: Allan Kimaina, Gladys Mutisya, Batya Blankers & M. Najeeb Shafiq


Financial innovations in tertiary education funding have long been explored as an avenue to increase access and decrease inequity in post-secondary education.  A recent panel session at the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Meeting engaged researchers and practitioners in a critical dialogue on how student financing initiatives, coupled with additional financial literacy and employment support, have the potential to address the key tertiary education access and equity challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa. Chaired by Arushi Terway (NORRAG), the panel titled “Innovative Financing for Tertiary Education in Sub-Saharan Africa” presented findings from research and implementation of tertiary education student financing initiatives within the Innovative Financing for Education To Leave No One Behind project. 

First, Allan Kimaina (Bertha Centre, the University of Cape Town- Graduate School of Business) presented some initial findings from a literature review of student loan financing literature in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa. The findings illustrated the trends in the literature, as well as the challenges in tertiary loan financing from the perspective of students, public funders, and private financiers. He highlighted that the region faces several barriers ranging from the limited availability of financing options for students, the employment challenges limiting the ability of graduates to pay back student loans, and the inadequate financial market capacity to administer loans. The presentation concluded by highlighting research gaps including the insufficient knowledge of context-specific variations of student financing mechanisms as well as the existing strategies for overcoming barriers to both uptake and repayment of student loans. 

Following this, two innovative financing initiatives striving to tackle some of the challenges in financing tertiary education in Sub-Saharan Africa in an equitable manner were presented. First, Gladys Mutisya introduced the Lending for Education in Africa Partnership (LEAP), a social lending fund in Kenya that aims to provide affordable finance to youth from low and middle-income backgrounds in East Africa. The LEAP programme provides customised loans to students from low-income households along with additional support like financial literacy support, mentoring, and career guidance to help the recipients have a competitive edge in the job market. 

This was followed by a presentation on Chancen International, by Batya Blankers. Chancen International uses the innovative approach known as Income Share Agreements to try to increase access to funds for tertiary education for students in Rwanda. Fund recipients also receive additional support from Chancen International in the form of financial literacy and community building. Batya presented the various safeguards built into the financing and repayment model that are meant to ensure that the recipients are not financially burdened by repayment commitments after graduation. 

The presentations were rounded up by a discussant, Professor M. Najeeb Shafiq, who made a comparison with the long history of debates on higher education financing and loans in the United States and their burden on students and young professionals. He proposed that the research on student financing in Sub-Saharan Africa builds from lessons learned from the United States context, but also that more findings from such research in the Sub-Saharan Africa context should be shared with a global audience so that promising approaches in the region can be discussed and considered elsewhere. 

A rich discussion with the audience followed. Topics included the importance of thinking through the sustainability of such innovative financing mechanisms in Sub-Saharan Africa, including how governments could learn about successful approaches that could be scaled up. The presenters and audience highlighted the need for additional support to students beyond financing to better link tertiary education to employment and ease loan repayments. However, questions were raised on the scaling implications for initiatives requiring high-quality additional support.  An important knowledge equity discussion was also brought up regarding the value of local/regional researchers taking the lead in studying such mechanisms, instead of external/international researchers that come to study them without knowledge of the context.

This panel discussion highlighted the need for more contextual research in understanding both the challenges and the potential solutions for financing tertiary education in Sub-Saharan Africa. The IFE-2-Leave No One Behind project is committed to examining the issues raised during the session and developing a better understanding of how various innovative student financing models are contributing to bringing more and better financing to reach vulnerable and marginalised youth. 


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