Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Students petition Senate over bursary discrepancies

1380058816GGThe issue of students who claim to have been unfairly categorised as capable to either pay part or full tuition is currently before the Senate, according to the chairperson of the senatorial committee on social affairs.

Therese Bishagara Kagoyire said the committee last week met the Minister of Education to get a grasp of the problem, which has seen thousands of students appeal against the decision that compels them to pay for themselves.

The new policy which went underway this month as varsities started for academic year 2013-14, was introduced as government scaled down on the funds it spends on students in universities, to focus basic education infrastructure development and research.

“We are looking at the petitions presented to us by students and are dissecting the information given to us by the ministry, we want to clearly understand the student loan policy before we table the case before the plenary next month,” said Kagoyire.

She said that an emergency committee session that convened on Monday agreed to treat the matter expeditiously.

In implementing this policy, the ministry based on the social classification programme, commonly known as Ubudehe, of their families, to determine which of the five categories they fell in.

Students whose families are in the first and second categories, which are for the poor, will see their tuition paid by the government and will continue getting the monthly living allowance.

Categories 3 and 4 belong to the moderately well off families and these will have to split the cost of their education with government, with each party paying half.

The rich belong to categories 5 and 6. Families in these categories have big chucks of land, a good house, a car, and are employers.

Their children have to pay a hundred per cent of the tuition fees, Rwf 600,000. Government set a uniform tuition at Rwf600,000 a year in all public institutions of higher learning.

According to Education minister Vincent Biruta, in addition to increasing the number of loan beneficiaries, under the new scheme, the government would save close to Rwf10 billion.

Students speak out

While many students say these categories were appropriate to be used as yardstick for communal health insurance (Mutuelle de Sante), they argue it not practical when it gets to paying tuition in universities.

In Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), the registration fee is Rwf 33,000, but for it to be acceptable, it has to be paid with one third of tuition fee which in this case is Rwf200,000.

Three weeks after their classmates started their courses, some continuing students and those supposed to join first year are still at home.

Others who managed to pay this installment said they are not sure about the future because their families are poor.

“It is unfortunate that the reform came at a time I was almost completing my course. I cannot go to school unless my plea to have my case revised is considered,” said a 4th year student in Electrical Engineering, preferring to remain anonymous.

This first born in a family of six said he lost his father five years ago, and the mother is struggling to take his other siblings to school.

As of September 17, to join first year at KIST, 542 students of the 686 expected had registered and slightly a half of them had paid the first installment.

Of the 1,934 continuing students expected, 1519 had registered and 928 had paid the first installment.

The rector of KIST, Dr. Marie Christine Gasingirwa, told this paper on Thursday that she believed “there are cases of extreme poverty that merit attention, some of which I received”.

But she said the policy is appropriate.

“Government development partners are not so much interested in tertiary education and this is why we decided to have parents contribute. I am sure we shall make it,” said Gasingirwa.

Civil society outcry

Several civil society organisations have called for the review of some cases of students whom they say were wrongly categorised, because, their families cannot afford the tuition.

Amongst these organisations that even petitioned the Senate include AJPRODHO-Jijukirwa and Never Again.

In August, they sent a position paper to the Senate and other institutions over the issue, saying that “many families are poor and their children cannot afford university tuition.”

Yesterday, they requested senators to act quickly because “students are still at home and are still complaining”.

Fred Musiime, the national coordinator of AJPRODHO Jijuka, said when contacted on Monday, that Senate needed to act swiftly, because the affected students are stuck long after classes resumed.

Review on

Meanwhile, the Ministry of  Local Government appointed committees at district level to examine the over 6,000 complaints that were filed until September 9.

Sharon Haba, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, yesterday told The New Times that  20 districts had already filed their reports and the final outcome is would be expected on tomorrow (September 26).

The report was expected much earlier, but Haba said “some districts had relatively a big number of cases to work on.”

In Gakenke, there were 615 cases, and the district filed the report on Saturday, according to the vice mayor in charge of social affairs.

“We concluded that 400 students would be supported; we visited the families of the complainants in our district and established that indeed some need support, said Zephilin Ntakirutimana, the Gakenke vice mayor.

All the public universities have extended deadlines for registration to September 30, as they wait for the outcome of the review of the complaints.

Students petition Senate over bursary discrepancies


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