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Govt plan to fund continuing students hangs in balance

The HESFB chairperson Dr Charles Wana-Etyem (2nd Left) hands over the list of benefeciaries to the state minister for Higher Education, Dr John Muyingo

The HESFB chairperson Dr Charles Wana-Etyem (2nd Left) hands over the list of benefeciaries to the state minister for Higher Education, Dr John Muyingo

The Higher Education Students Financing Board (HESFB) will this year not support any finalists that are struggling to finish their study programmes due to lack of tuition fees.

In September last year – after seven years of waiting – the government released Shs 500m to kick-start the scheme of supporting continuing students but no funds have been set aside this academic year 2022/23 as highly anticipated, writes YUDAYA NANGONZI.

The board had agreed to support continuing students following two years of incessant calls and appeals from this category of students to complete their programmes. During the release of the 9th cohort of student loan beneficiaries for the academic year 2022/23, continuing students were shelved.

Out of the 3,089 applications that were received, at least 672 forms were rejected, leaving only 2,417 applications to be reviewed for selection.

Of the 672 forms, continuing students continued to register the highest number of rejected applications as the board primarily gives priority to needy but brilliant first-year students intending to study science-related programmes – save for persons with disabilities that are cleared to study programmes of their choice, including humanities.

At least 177 males and 74 females had their applications excluded for being continuing students. More applicants were denied loans for hiding under the disability category without giving evidence to their claims.

The executive director of the HESFB, Michael Wanyama, expressed the need in the future for the government to fund continuing students who are struggling to cater for their education costs.

“The funds for continuing students should be reinstated because of the high attrition rates at the higher learning institutions that fall between 25 and 30 per cent. Two years ago, we were able to receive Shs 500m to fund continuing students but this year that money was not given to us. We also appeal to the government to increase funding to cater for the high demand for student loans,” Wanyama said at the Uganda Media Media Center last week during the official release of the beneficiaries.

The journey for the selection of beneficiaries for this academic year 2022/2023 started on July 18 and ended on October 15, 2022.

With the absence of learners who sat for A-level in 2021 due to the effects of Covid-19 on the education sector, the board’s target group for the loans was the spillover of students who were not admitted to tertiary institutions last year and those who had obtained certificates and diplomas in various programmes.

“While we thought that in this case, the interested applicants would be few, the numbers that turned up were quite substantial numbering 3,089. Sadly, the biggest number of again rejected applicants were continuing students due to budget constraints,” Wanyama added.

LIMITED FUNDS VS BUDGET CUTS

On average, the board supports only 25 per cent of the applicants annually despite the increasing number of eligible applicants. The remaining 75 per cent often end up not joining higher learning institutions. For instance, on inception in 2014, the board shortlisted 2,125 eligible applicants but supported only 1,201 students.

The following year, the numbers climbed to 4,399 but only 1,273 got study loans. In 2019/20 when the board received the highest number of eligible applicants at 7,310, only 1,851 students were selected.

This academic year 2022/23, the board suffered a budget cut of Shs 5bn which hindered its support to continuing students and more first-year students. The Observer understands that the board was meant to support more than 1,500 students but only awarded loans to 625 students out of the 2,417 eligible applicants.

HESFB submitted a budget of about Shs 32bn but only Shs 27bn was approved to support new first-year and continuing students already on the scheme as well as cover wage and non-wage expenditures of the board.

Of the Shs 27bn, the new 625 students have been allocated Shs 2.6bn, going by the usual average unit cost of Shs 4.5m per student, per year.

Due to the limited budget, Wanyama said, the board is also unable to fund programmes that are priced above its upper limit of Shs 7.2m per annum. This decision has particularly affected the medical students at Mukono-based Uganda Christian University (UCU) and the Islamic University in Uganda [IUIU] where both institutions could not subsidize tuition for the students.

Kampala International University (KIU) is on the verge of changing its bursary framework with HESFB, where the support is likely to shrink shortly.

SUCCESSFUL STUDENTS

The board will support 625 students this year to pursue degree and diploma programmes from 23 chartered universities and 37 Other Tertiary Institutions. Of the total beneficiaries, 207 (33.1%) are female while 418 (66.9%) are male.

The loans awarded to students shall cover the students’ tuition fees, functional fees, research fees, and aids and appliances for persons with disabilities.

The HESFB chairperson, Dr Charles Wana-Etyem, urged girls to strive harder in competing with their male counterparts in pursuing science- related programmes supported by the board.

“The number of female successful applicants has steadily remained at just over 30 per cent over the years due to our affirmative action initiatives to ensure gender equity, but we wish to see more females taking up the loans in science fields,” Wana-Etyem said.

All districts received successful loan applicants except Amudat and Karenga where no applicants were registered. Busia leads with the highest number of beneficiaries at 20. It is followed by Mpigi and Wakiso with 17 students each, Ntungamo and Sheema with 16 students each, Tororo got 15, Bushenyi and Oyam with 14 each, and Masaka with 13 students to complete the top 10 districts.

This academic year, KIU led the pact with the highest number of beneficiaries at 141. It is followed by ISBAT University with 85 students, Ndejje University with 67, and Kabale University with 60 students.

The board observed low participation rates amongst public universities, which was partly caused by the long and delayed admissions processes which were affected by the systems upgrade across the institutions. Makerere and Kyambogo universities, which took long to finalize their admission processes, got only 39 and four students respectively.

EDUCATION MINISTRY SPEAKS

Commenting on the limited resource envelope to the board, the state minister for Higher Education, Dr John C. Muyingo, said the government is committed to supporting every student but funding remains a challenge.

“The challenge is on the availability of the required resources. We are having a very difficult economic situation but as money comes by, everybody including those who are not being supported today will be assisted. The commitment is there but we have not yet realized the money that can enable everybody to get on board,” Muyingo told The Observer.

Muyingo said the demand for student loans has certainly surpassed the available resources, thus pledging to seek an audience with the ministry of Finance and Parliament to lobby for increased funding for the Board.

While the loan scheme provides for rescheduling the loan repayments in case of no income, he encouraged former beneficiaries to make every effort and deposit their monthly installments to create a revolving fund for other beneficiaries.

At least 4,680 former beneficiaries are in repayment time. Of these, about 40 per cent are successfully repaying while 60 per cent are struggling to pay and the board has devised measures to track them. When a student completes their studies, they are given a one-year grace period to settle into the world of work.

When this period elapses, the board doubles the period one spent while studying within which to repay the study loan. For medical students who have completed their five-year study period and exhausted the grace period, one has more than 10 years to repay the loan.

In case one completely refuses to repay the loan yet they have the means to do so, the board has the power to drag the person to courts of law.

nangonzi@observer.ug

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