THE decision by Rwanda’s public universities to discontinue first year students who had no government bursary had kept news outlets busy for the last couple of weeks.
The local population too joined the debate. From the local bar, in taxis, on the streets, in the local market to the pulpit, the debate zeroed in on who was to blame for the mess.
Students blamed the authorities, who allowed them to join the various public universities, for breaking their promise; the Student Financing Agency of Rwanda (SFAR) distanced itself from the controversial student admission list published in Imvaho Nshya while the Ministry of Education pointed out that there were rules and regulations and criteria for students’ admission and financing. The blame game continued.
Amidst all this confusion, the affected students were making rounds in the capital, explaining their problem to anyone who cared to listen. Some got so desperate that they threatened suicide, others prostitution; all the while the drama never seemed to end.
One thing was clear though right from the time the problem unfolded; SFAR is clearly to blame for the all this mess. The question is why the agency waited to produce the list of sponsored students two weeks into the academic year.
And if there was a problem with the making of these lists, it is apparent that universities were never informed. At the National University of Rwanda, first year students reported on January 4 and were taken through a one week induction process.
They were registered and many, mainly girls, were allocated accommodation only to be sent packing a week later.
Last week, the affected students breathed a sigh of relief after the President declared that they should be allowed back to their respective universities. But did it have to get to this?
This is a situation that could have been avoided if the various institutions involved in higher education coordinated their activities.
SFAR operations need an overhaul; it is not the first time that the agency is embroiled in controversy. The problem of delays in the processing of student’s living allowances is as old as the agency itself. SFAR always blames universities for the delay and the universities point a finger at SFAR.
This latest bursary saga is an eye opener to the inefficiency that has continued to dog this agency. Now is the time to audit its operations with a view of making it more productive and more efficient.
Paul Ntambara is The New Times bureau chief, Southern Province