Programmes needed to make university education affordable

By Crispen Rateiwa

Life is not easy, especially for the youths. A general survey in the country tells a simple story. Whether one chooses to pursue academics, vocational education or sports, youths are struggling to make ends meet. With company closures, retrenchments and paltry salaries, youths cannot rely with parents or guardians’ support, especially for university and college tuitions fees. Learning is meant to improve skill, knowledge, value and attitude so that one can get meaningfully employed. Through an array of policies and interventions, surely the government must play a role and make higher education cheaper and accessible to avert mass college drop outs.

Learning spurs research, development and innovation which grows the economy. Everyone needs to learn to improve the standard of life. The government must be inventively committed to produce high-level work force for the economy. How can university students meet all their cost of education? How do graduates -they are more than job vacancies- pay credit to the family or service loans, that is, if they are widely accessible? What depresses and puzzles students, parents and guardians is, after paying exorbitant fees, it’s not guaranteed for a graduate to secure employment.

The grants/loan scheme
The government of Zimbabwe availed a number of programs to fund education at tertiary level. The loan scheme was introduced as a means of assisting needy students to pursue higher education, while reducing the burden on public funds. In the 1990s, for example, students could get government-backed grants and loans to pay tuition fees, computer lab fees, library fees, sports fees, field trips, medical aid, student representative council, food, thesis /project expenses, rent in private accommodation, transport , stationery and personal expenses. Today, due to shrunk or no loan grant scheme, a good number of undergraduate students are expected to fully pay, directly in cash from their pockets – before the commencement and course of a single semester – the above fees and expenses, which range from US$1 000 to US$2 000 per year depending on the course of study. Note that, an academic year consists two semesters.

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The deteriorating economic conditions grappling the country as evidenced by job losses and unemployment rate at more than 80% leaves students between a rock and a hard surface. Who should they turn to for their education fees and expenses? While few parents and guardians get paltry salaries, others do not have secure jobs as they are living from hand to mouth. The majority of students are struggling to pay, therefore deferring studies, dropping out or engaging in transactional sex. It is justified for present university and college students to label the 1990s university students a privileged lot because they had access to grants and loans. The Zimbabwe Independent of 6 March 2015 reported that, “Government had a system in place whereby it offered students money which at some point comprised a 75% grant and 25% loan for the 15 weeks of the semester”.

Considering that Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, budgets the biggest annual funds to 2016 education, US$810 million, students hope and pray that there would be a big chunk to subsidize education; helping underprivileged university and college students who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant fees. Strict adherence to government policy that needy students should not be prevented by financial hardship from studying at the tertiary level must be followed. From the US$810 million, the government should establish a system of study loans to be repaid only when the student completes his studies and finds gainful employment. Without misuse and timely availing of the money, there is no doubt the money will contribute in making education cheaper and keep students in school.

StudyingAlthough the system ensures underprivileged students access to higher education, there are some loopholes in government loan grant schemes. Due to the poor performing economy, few student loans can be repaid because there is high graduate unemployment and high rates of default. In this case, a law that states student loans would not be “dischargeable,” or covered by bankruptcy is necessary. Usually, a student loan has an interest rate of 4 per cent of the graduate’s gross salary in addition to income tax charged from the first month the debt becomes refundable.

Research shows that servicing a loan starts after six months grace period -after a graduate has finished his or her course/programme- following which the parent, guardian or surety will be required to pay in terms of the loan agreement contract entered into between the government, the student and parent/guardian/surety. The government will place on graduates’ salaries automatic deductions. If the informal sector could be streamlined and taxed, it will be possible for those not employed by government to be hold accountable, instructing their banks to make a monthly payment on the graduates’ behalf. In 1989, Ghana introduced a loan scheme to minimize defaults by linking repayment of loans with pension contributions. Graduates who would have received a loan first repaid their loan before they qualified for a pension.

The cadetship program
Students will be required to sign bonds as a condition for accepting a scholarship/bursary/grant from government. The cadetship programme compels beneficiaries to serve the state for the number of years they would have received government funding. The agreement forms also stipulate that borrowers would not be expected to seek employment abroad until they have fully settled their obligations. Government offers a cadetship scheme where it would pay fees for students at state universities and in return they would be bonded through having to work in the country for a specified number of years. For example, upon graduation and certification, engineers will be expected to work for five years at certain engineering firms where there is an engineering shortage. There is a service requirement upon engineer certification requiring the recipient to accept employment as an engineer in a high needs field and region. The cadetship scheme is noble; therefore, it must be revamped.

Grants, Scholarship or bursaries funds
It is encouraging that some private sector, religious or other charitable organizations in Zimbabwe offer both needs based and merit based scholarships, bursary, and grants to prospective or ongoing students. Their continued and wide-based support in work force development is crucial. A local private hospital may offer grant or scholarship funds in exchange for a commitment from the student to work for that hospital for a set number of years after graduating from the nursing program and obtaining certification.

In Kenya, there is a strong commitment to cost-sharing in education, and local communities, parents, religious and private organizations make direct contributions to education costs under the principle of Harambee.

The importance with which the government has viewed education is demonstrated in the growing annual allocations of funds to education in comparison with other government services. The $810 million annual allocation for the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the Ministry of Higher Education compared to the second highly annually funded government department, Ministry of Home Affairs, which received US$396 million testifies government’s love for its youths.

However, the allocation is a drop in an ocean and there is need for new education policies that rope in other players in higher education funding. Some of them include the introduction of concrete government loan policies to fully fund tertiary education and the “learn now and pay later” incentive in colleges and universities. The government must encourage and allow independent donors and organizations to assist in university funding. Provided there are government incentives, the business sector may participate in skills development; unveiling loans and grants for tertiary students.

All tertiary-level institutions should undertake some revenue generating projects such as tree seedling projects, cattle ranching and so on to broaden the income base. Depending on hiking college fees invites ‘fees must fall campaigns’ from student unions. Colleges should be allowed to sell goods which they have produced and operate a revolving fund or trading account to broaden revenue sources rather than entirely depending on charging tuition fees.

Crispen Rateiwa is a publishing studies student at a local university. The views that he shares here are his own. Contact him on crisrateiwa@gmail.com ; Facebook, Crispen Rateiwa; and Twitter @ndakangwarisa. Read his blog ayaasite.wordpress.com

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