Beginning with the academic year starting this September, science students at the University of Rwanda (UR) will have to dig deeper in their pockets to meet a tuition fee increment.
The move follows a cabinet decision, last month, which resolved that tuition fees for science disciplines be raised by 50 per cent. This will see tuition fees per academic year grow from Rwf600,000 to Rwf900,000 per year.
Unlike before when government offered the whole lump sum to sponsored candidates, the new arrangement requires all students to apply for a loan repayable upon employment.
Private students applying for science courses will have to pay the full Rwf900,000, while their counterparts on the government scheme will apply for a Rwf600,000 student loan and government will top up the Rwf300,000. But is this move justified?
According to Professor Nelson Ijumba, the deputy vice-chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs and Research at UR, the university had for long struggled with meeting shortages after spending heavily on students offering science courses.
He explains that with the new fees structures, financial demands will be met without straining the minimal resources generated by the institution.
“If the students pay less we always have to cover the shortfalls. Well, we may have our own internal generation of funds but it is not enough. The university gets money mainly from the government,” says Prof Ijumba.
Citing disciplines that demand a lot of support, he explains that the Rwf600,000 contributed by each student only caters for all needs of students offering humanities but much less for those enrolled in demanding courses like medicine.
“In medicine, the expenditure is more than Rwf1.5m per student so we were making losses. Government tasked us to make the calculations and after completing this work, we came up with the procedures. Even Rwf900,000 is a compromise and it is going to be revised in December,” he adds.
Although many would expect the tuition fees to be revised downwards as a way to promote sciences, the university authorities maintain that numbers would mean nothing without quality, which requires appropriate financial support.
Professor Eugene Ndabaga, a specialist in education management, policy and planning at the University of Rwanda, explains that science disciplines go beyond delivering notes in a classroom and as such demand more investment for practicals.
“All courses need lecture rooms but for sciences we need to look at the bigger picture. The move is good because on top of the laboratories the university needs to find sources of funds to purchase chemicals,” explains Prof. Ndabaga.
He advises that compelling private students to pay more money for the course shouldn’t be seen as a burden either since the largest percentage would be spent on improving their learning.
“Humanities and social sciences are good but if we need more doctors and engineers we need to boost their sponsorship. There is need for extra money and internationally it is known science courses are more expensive in terms of unit cost,” he adds.
Professor Ijumba points out that another approach that is still subject to debate is to improve participation of private students through government support.
“May be as a way of promoting science and technology, government can look at offering special loans to private students but then it should be up to Rwf900,000 but we are still discussing this,” he says.
Most East African states have harmonised tuition in public universities as part of efforts to harmonise education under the East African Community integration.
Individuals seeking to enroll for top undergraduate sciences course at Makerere University in Uganda part with about Shs2.2m (about Rwf500,000) per semester. However, at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, a bachelor of dental surgery costs Kshs234,750 (about Rwf 1.76m per semester)
Under a policy managed by the Ministry of Education, this increase in tuition at University of Rwanda ensures that the new rates fall within the range of harmonised tuition structures within the region.
Dr Celestin Ntivuguruzwa, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education, is also fast to point out that the increment is not a compromise as such and more reference will be made to other institutions around the region.
“We put into consideration the programmes within the region before reaching to these conclusions and together with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning advised the University of Rwanda to make a thorough study before implementing the necessary changes,” says Dr Ntivuguruzwa.
He further explains that there are challenges experienced in financing these courses and the new policy will only be revised after the study on costing each particular course is completed by the university.
“To say that this programme should go for this much, that is for UR to determine and as the ministry we shall follow it up,” he explains, adding that: “The previous policy was Rwf 600,000 for all programmes and that arrangement was not based on the merits and demerits of the course duration. All programmes cannot cost the same; you can’t pay for medicine the same you would for accountancy. It should depend on the trade.”
Parents and students speak out
Majority of students and parents who spoke to the Education Times expressed dissatisfaction over the new fees structure.
“The Rwf 600,000 was already high. Increasing the tuition does help the institution, but may not in any way help the parents,” says Robert Nshimiyimana, a parent from Kabeza in Kigali.
Theodore Rutabingwa, a parent from Gisozi, Kigali, feels that the university would have focused on cutting its expenditures than increasing the burden on the students and parents.
“I am sure the university spends some money on its staff for travels and other forms of allowances. They should instead reduce these unnecessary expenditures,” he says.
Eloi Mugabe, a student at the University of Rwanda’s College of Business and Economics, says he hopes that the new structures come with good service delivery.
“We don’t know whether we fall in the evening or day shift. The university should ensure that these schedules are clearly differentiated. That way we can find time to find part-time jobs,” he explains.
Catherine Mbabazi, a student at Mt Kenya University
It’s not a good idea because even paying back the Rwf600,000 has been tough for some students so what about Rwf 900,000? It would be fair if they created jobs for students after university so that it eases the load of paying back the borrowed money.
Aline Uwimana, a parent
Although the money is given to students as a loan, there are some issues the government should weigh before coming up with such a decision. First of all getting job in public institutions is hard, which leaves most of people trying the private sector. It becomes a challenge for students in the private sector to pay back unlike their colleagues in public institutions.
Claude Habimana, an employee at the bank
It depends on the reasons behind the increase. It is a fact that the cost of education has also gone high, and I believe by doing this they could improve the welfare of lecturers, thereby discouraging them from moving to private institutions in search of greener pastures.
Patrick Sibomana, a student at University of Rwanda
Although it might be to improve the welfare of the lecturers, for us students it’s a big blow. This is because getting that money to pay back is another challenge due to scarcity of jobs. The government should find a way of improving its programmes without affecting students.
Collins Barminga, a teacher
I think it shouldn’t be a big deal to students; the tuition fees is given to them as a loan which they pay back after completing their studies when they get employed.