Monday, 11 November 2013

Varsity education funding: What are the alternatives?

graduationEducation stakeholders plan to come up with various schemes to provide alternative funding to students who would miss out on the government’s bursary in public tertiary institutions.

This is in light of the revision of bursaries for government sponsored students in public tertiary institutions this academic year (2013/2014).

With the changes, there is no grants component, and thus all funds paid out by government for students in tertiary institutions will be fully recoverable, according to a government blueprint dubbed: Securing a Sustainable Future for Tertiary Education.

In separate interviews with The New Times, a number of people, including scholars called for consideration of other options for funding universities.

The Ministry of Education says government is working on a project that will give management of bursary loan to Rwanda Development Bank.

The project is expected to start next academic year and is supposed to help parents grow a savings culture, so that if their children get admission to a public university, they can acquire a loan from their own savings.

Heads of various firms and other education stakeholders support this scheme.

They say that, parents can save a little they have on a regular basis for their children, right at birth.

Others suggest that employers should sponsor tertiary education, especially targeting students in their career lines in return for loyalty guarantees.

Maurice Toroitich, the KCB Rwanda managing director, says they are in that line.

With their product commonly known as Masomo Loan, students apply for a loan at the start of academic year, and pay back through the whole year, so that they can get another loan for the following academic year.

Without revealing how many have benefitted, he said the scheme is on track and most of their clients are students from Kigali Independent University (ULK).

MTN Rwanda also finds sponsoring tertiary education a good idea. Through MTN Foundation, the company sponsors 100 students at secondary school level.

“Sponsoring university students is a bit tricky; …This can work only through loans.”

Education ministry officials say that after handing the loan management to a bank, the government will give scholarships only to the needy and most bright students.

The government insists that parents and students should accept that full government funding of tuition is not viable at all.

The government will concentrate on proving basic education, quality issues and ensuring infrastructure availability.

“Parents want tertiary education to be free, but there is no country, where it works like that; as far as we are concerned, the country is looking at priorities in education; we want to ensure decent infrastructure and quality education. Parents have no choice but to pay tuition,” Education minister Vincent Biruta said.

By quality of education, minister Biruta said, they have to find qualified lecturers and school materials, while in infrastructure, laboratories, classrooms and other crucial facilities are a responsibility of the government.

“This is in line with the government’s targets to build a knowledge-based economy,” he said.

The budget allocated to the public universities and higher learning institutions increased to Rwf 34bn this year, from Rwf19bn in 2006.

Louise Karamaga, the deputy director in charge of school financing at the Rwanda Education Board, told this paper that since 2006, the budget ceiling for bursary loans has been Rwf5.5bn every year.

Ministry officials maintain that this money would be added to the budget to sort out other issues in education. Some of the obvious challenges include but are not limited to rehabilitation of the existing facilities.

They cite the College of Arts and Humanities, (formally National University of Rwanda) structures built in 1950s-1960s and have never been rehabilitated.

Toilets, students’ halls, to mention few are in a sorry state, they say.

Parents to play their role

Starting this academic year, a flat fee was decided for tuition fee. Rwf 600,000 will be paid per year by all students regardless of one’s area of study.

However, the Ubudehe classification based on the socio-economic capacity of the family suggests support to some students: categories one and two will be given the bursary loan at a hundred per cent rate, category three and four, will get half of the tuition fee as a loan, while categories five and six will get no education  loan.

This programme was contested by many students who claimed their families did not have capacity. It resulted into a review, which saw 10,000 more students allowed to get a hundred per cent of the loan.

“Note that admission to the public university is not primary based on the students’ vulnerability, but on the performance during national exams,” said Biruta in explaining that some students are at times not genuine in their complaints.

The average amount spent by government under the old scheme is Rwf26bn for 7,154 students.

Under the revised scheme, a reasonable amount of that money would be saved with more students benefitting.

Under the new scheme, Rwf16.5bn would be spent on an average of 12,684 students annually, indicating a reduction in government expenditure.

In practice, the review will enable more students to benefit from students’ loan scheme.

The number of students increased to 40,000, this year, from 26,000 in 2008 for private universities, while in public universities it increased to 37,000 this year, from 20,000 in 2008.

However, Smaragde Mbonyintege, the spokesperson of Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda, an important stakeholder in education, says that the government should sponsor all the university students who need it.

Varsity education funding: What are the alternatives?


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