Kyambogo University last week topped the list of institutions benefitting from the students’ loan scheme.
Kyambogo had the highest number of beneficiaries at 267. They were followed by Makerere with 210 students, Ndejje University 175, KIU 165 and Busitema with 106 students. Islamic University in Uganda is taking the least number of students at seven.
The Higher Education Students Financing Board (HESFB) released this year’s beneficiaries recently. The scheme supports applicants for undergraduate programmes at 18 chartered universities and 33 tertiary institutions.
Newly established Soroti University has for the second time not been able to participate in the scheme, as it is yet to open its doors to students.
Other chartered universities benefitting from the scheme are Gulu, Kabale, Lira, MUST, Muni, Bishop Stuart, Bugema, Nkumba, UCU, UMU and Kampala University.
LIMITED GOVERNMENT FUNDING
However, as the list was unveiled, the state minister for Higher Education, Dr John Muyingo, re-echoed the call from HESFB for more funding to support more applicants.
“Funding a mere 30 per cent of the total applicants in itself undermines the good intentions of the scheme and [yet] government [is committed] towards increasing access to higher education,” he said.
"I want to ask the board to seriously look around for other sources of funds so that we get enough money to provide for more needy students,” Muyingo said.
Last year, HEFSB presented a proposal to government to raise Shs 1.8bn to fund at least 100 PhD candidates in academia annually but we understand that these funds have not been availed to the board.
In the academic year 2017/18, HESFB received 4,218 applications, but only 1,253 undergraduates and 207 diploma students were successful.
According to their report, the board received a new resource amounting to Shs 5.3bn in the financial year 2017/18 to cater for this fourth cohort of students. Of this fund, diploma students require Shs 561m, while undergraduates need Shs 4.2bn.
In total, the 1,406 students require Shs 4.8bn, leaving a balance of Shs 318m, of which 50m was recommended for aids and appliances for persons with disability. A further Shs 268m shall be allocated for research projects for 680 final-year students.
The applications of 614 were rejected this year for non-eligibility, prompting the board to lobby for further funding to sensitise the public on the loan scheme.
Since inception in 2014, at least 14,506 students have applied for the loans but only 5,205 students have been awarded loans to date.
Due to budget constraints, HESFB is still unable to fund courses which are way above its approved upper limit of Shs 7.2m.
“This has particularly affected the board’s ability to fund medical students, who apply at Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU) which cannot subsidize the students in an already financially starved environment,” reads the report.
The Observer has learnt that the board recently wrote to IUIU to reduce its tuition fee for medical students from the Shs 12m per year currently charged, but the university management ‘refused’.
According to a list of this year’s beneficiaries, Kampala International University (KIU) has the highest number of students set to pursue a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery for five and a half years, at 47.
It is followed by Makerere and Mbarara University of Science and Technology under the same course with two students, and Busitema and Gulu Universities with one student each.
Trend of loans
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Compared to IUIU, the board pays Shs 7.2m annually for the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery for students at KIU. Previously, KIU was charging Shs 6m. However, this was increased to cater for the increased cost of running the programme.
At Makerere, Busitema and MUST, HESFB pays for its students on the same course Shs 1.344m annually. An additional Shs 600,000 is paid to cater for functional fees although it is paid once in the first semester every year.
“When you look at such figures, private universities cannot teach the same course at such affordable fees. They are very expensive. So, with our limited budget, we can only sponsor medical students from chartered institutions that offer tuition fees within our limits,” an official who preferred anonymity told The Observer.
The limited resource envelope has also forced the board to finance only fresh entrants to higher education, leaving out many needy continuing students.
Meanwhile, the HESFB has also called for a policy on building an education fund that can be expanded to cater for all higher education funding requirements.
“This can be done through a tax on tax as an education tax. For instance, where government can impose a 0.25 per cent on top of Value Added Tax, thereby building a higher education financing fund,” reads the report.
The board also wants government to consider a policy shift on financing of merit students at public universities and other tertiary institutions.
Every academic year, government sponsors 3,000 undergraduate merit students, 896 students who pass under the district quota system and 64 students with disability under affirmative action and 40 sports men and women.
However, the board argues that if one half of the fund is reallocated to the HESFB, and implemented in well-thought-out phases, the already existing merit fund with the education ministry would be utilised by more students.
Alternatively, the report indicates that the ministry could also consider cost sharing or partial scholarships to be awarded to merit students at all levels of higher education support. This idea, the board says, has also been already supported by the vice chancellors’ forum.