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Does govt sponsorship benefit the needy?

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd May 2009 03:00 AM

AT least 60% of the 2,000 government sponsored students admitted to Makerere University this year could well have afforded to pay their tuition considering how much they paid for their A’levels.

AT least 60% of the 2,000 government sponsored students admitted to Makerere University this year could well have afforded to pay their tuition considering how much they paid for their A’levels.

By Lydia Namubiru

AT least 60% of the 2,000 government sponsored students admitted to Makerere University this year could well have afforded to pay their tuition considering how much they paid for their A’levels.

For instance, parents of the 75 students sponsored from Seeta High School are those whose parents afforded to pay the private school’s sh1.95m annual schools fees, the 34 students from Namirembe Hillside had been paying over sh2m in their high school while the 45 taken from St. Mary’s Kisubi were paying sh2.07m a year.

This is evidence that affirms a long held grievance among educationists that government scholarships for higher education go to the children of the wealthy, who do not necessarily need them.

Saturday Vision analysed the school fees paid by 25 leading schools whose students took up 60% of the government scholarships at Makerere. Twelve of these schools pay more than sh1.8m a year, five pay between sh1.5m and sh1.8 m, Nine of the schools pay annual fees that range between sh1m to sh1.5m. Only one, Lubiri SS, a day school pays less than sh1m, a year (sh814,500).

In comparison, the most expensive courses at Makerere University (medicine and surgery) require tuition fees of sh1.92m a year, engineering course cost sh1.65m, while other science courses require tuition ranging from sh1 to sh1.5m. Most courses in the humanities require fees ranging from sh1.2m to slightly less that sh1m, while business courses require an average of sh1.55m a year. 

Even the most expensive courses, on an annual basis, cheaper than the school fees in some of the crème de la crème schools yet it is students from these schools who are given the government scholarships. In contrast, only a handful of poor students from the rural schools got onto the scheme.

“Yes, we are aware that the majority of students who get government sponsorship are from the good schools. These are the schools that also charge very high fees. Those who make it and are needy are only a minority,” says Gilbert Kadilo, the spokesperson for Makerere University. He, however, points out that this inequity is a policy matter that can only be solved by the Ministry of Education and not the university.

“What we know is that there is a limited number of government scholarships and this is what determines the cut off points,” he says. He acknowledges that the ministry has tried to make some changes in the imbalance by using the district quota system but its implementation is proving to be difficult.

This inequality in access to higher education is a fact that educationists have continually decried and tried to highlight over the years. From two surveys that he conducted in late 2007 and mid 2008, A. Kasozi chairman of the national Council for Higher Education concluded that “the current model of funding for higher education disadvantages the poor, females and people from peripheral areas of the state.”

Before him, numerous other education researchers and economists including Mohammed Mayanja, had conducted studies that drew similar conclusions.

After concluding that using performance as a basis for awarding scholarships retrenched inequity among social classes, Mayanja, a senior economist and former presidential candidate suggested an equity based subsidy where selection would be done at the district. Enter the ministry’s district quota system where a specific number of scholarships are given to each district.

Even in its maiden years, this system is proving ineffective in increasing access to higher education for the poor.

“If you say you are to give 12 places to Kotido, what are the chances the students there will make the grades?” Kadilo asks. Thus, the inequality continues. 

“My suggestion would be that we scrap the government sponsorship scheme and establish a loan scheme,” Kadilo ventures. This same view is help by many more educationists and economists. Mayanja suggested it, the world Bank has as well as the national council for higher education.

Albeit, each proposes a different model of the scheme. Mayanja argues that the Government should retain the responsibility to fund higher education but also establish the loan system for those who may not merit the government scholarships.

The council for higher education suggests that government sponsorship be retained for the most essential courses needed by the country and the left over money be turned into seed money for the loan scheme.

PROPOSED LOAN SCHEME

According to Kasozi, the loan scheme should:
  • Be based on how needy a student is
  • Take living expenses into account

  • Given to students who have been admitted to a public university

  • Have a zero real interest rate, that is, the interest rate should be equal to the prevailing inflation rate for a limited number of undergraduate full time study years and thereafter as close as possible to the Government’s lending rate.

  • The repayment period should be enough to allow monthly repayments that are feasible for the borrower

  • Payment relief provisions should be made for borrowers who practice in a certain area that is deemed critical for the public interest

  • Should be guaranteed by co-signatories who will put moral pressure on the borrower to pay or help the authorities trace the borrower in case they default

  • Government should also guarantee the loans to encourage private investors to take part in the business, for example, through the capital markets

  • Does govt sponsorship benefit the needy?

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