The Higher Education students Financing Act was passed on 12/12/2013, it was to harmonize public higher education financing by creating a central agency responsible for vetting applications for public education financing by introducing a students loan scheme.
While the basic arguments for the scheme are not in question, there are serious questions about the robustness of the Act’s operational framework to make sure that these broad goals as well as the more specific goals for students are realized.
The Rationale for Student Loans Scheme There are many arguments in favor of student loan schemes. Uganda, having recently joined over 70 countries that run such schemes, has incorporated several of these arguments as it has proposed and passed the Higher Education Students Financing Act. Despite these provisions under the Act, the Higher Education in Uganda has undergone significant changes related to use, institutional set up, number and differences among key players, and financing. It is doubtful if the government can secure and maintain adequate capitalization for the scheme.
There have been questions on;
1.Is there an efficient institutional management, including adequate systems for the selection of borrowers, the disbursement of loans, record keeping, data storage, and data processing?
2.Is there Sound financial management, including setting appropriate interest rates?
3.Are there Effective criteria and mechanisms for determining eligibility for loans, for targeting subsidies, and for deferring or forgiving loan requirements?
4.Is there an adequate legal framework to ensure that loan recovery is legally enforceable?
5.Is there Information and publicity to ensure that recipients understand the underlying principles and consequent obligations for the borrowing of repayment loans?
With the corruption cases in Uganda, the key question many legislators, activists and youth ask is whether the loan scheme funds will stay put and not misused, case on point is, the findings of the report from the committee on Education on the ministerial policy statement and budget estimates for FY2014/15, a report that was read and tabled on the floor of parliament.
The Committee observed that during FY 2013/14 UGX 6bn was allocated towards the Higher Education Students’ Financing Scheme of which UGX 5bn was to cater for students’ loans and the balance of UGX 1.0bn for administrative purposes. However, the Committee learnt that the real release was UGX, The task force on pre utilized 4.5bn. Of this amount, UGX 1.52bn ,Implementation operations while UGX 1.29bn was transferred to Higher Education Students’ Financing Board account instead of UGX 2.98bn.
The Committee noted with concern that the balance of UGX 1.69bn was diverted to other activities in the Ministry of Education and Sports. The committees recommended that UGX 1.69bn recovered from the Ministry of Education and Sports to be used to extend loans to struggling, continuing Students.
The Act does not address parents / students attitudes to grants / loans where non-payment may go beyond a mere resistance to honoring the debt. The other question that many ask is, What will happen to students who are granted loans but who do not graduate (students drop out, but stay liable for their debt).
Unemployable has been another key area for many of the policy analysts to look into; According to a 2008 World Bank Report, Uganda is among the countries with the youngest population and the highest youth unemployment rate of 83%.
To further lend credibility to these findings, in the 2011/2012 budget of Uganda, the Minister of Finance recognised that because of the high levels of unemployment, the Ugandan economy could only absorb 20% of its youth.
You have to ask yourself whether government is setting up youths for a disappointment and frustration, with Uganda’s unemployment rate, how does one except youths to repay the loan? These are among many of the concerns that have been raised by educators, students and policy makers as well as those on the Parliamentary Committee.
As the Scheme is launched there will no doubt be other concerns about the extent to which the scheme can address efficiency and equity concerns in a differentiated Higher Education system in Uganda that has more private than public players. The loan scheme does not address inequalities within higher education financing and access.
This is made worse by the law does not give for clear eligibility criteria for accessing the loan scheme. The only eligibility criteria proposed by the sectoral committee of parliament pays attention to critical causes for national development (sciences). But this is not a criteria, it is a prioritization of financing.
During the parliamentary debate on the education committee report, members of parliament were concerned that the loan scheme had been awarded to only students offering sciences and not humanities, the minister for Education Hon Jessica Alpo confirmed their fears by saying that the loan scheme was now focusing on students offering sciences as a property. This raised the question of equity of the loan scheme.
The timing of the loan is very critical in so far as; the loan scheme was introduced towards the notational elections. This may affect repayment as those who will get access to the scheme may think of it as political money. It may as well be abused and used for political ends, if not well safeguarded.
It is not clear from the law if this law is intended to finance higher education only in public universities, or whether private university students can also access the loan scheme; During the parliament debate on the Education committee report, Hon Anywar raised the question on why many of the candidates that had qualified for the loan scheme were mainly from Kampala International university It is also likely that the loan scheme can be used to control student activism at public universities; what happens if the students who are under loan scheme but show against some government policies of laws?
In conclusion, how will the loan scheme address the unemployment problem when our education system focuses on job seeking and not job creators? Over to you readers.
Check http://www.parliamentwatchuganda.org for an analysis of the Law !