STEM students dominate government scholarships

Students during a lecture at University of Rwanda's College of Business and Economics in Kigali. / Emmanuel Kwizera

More students undertaking Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses have received government scholarships in public universities than those offering art courses.

According to data released by the Higher Education Council (HEC), at least 64.4 per cent of the students who qualified for government scholarships for the academic year 2019- 2020 will pursue STEM courses.

Overall, 9,968 students will be sponsored by the Government. Out of those 7,640 will study from the University of Rwanda while 2,328 were admitted at eight Integrated Polytechnics Regional Centres (IPRCs)

A total of 12,560 students had applied for sponsorship through the government education scheme, Emmanuel Muvunyi, the Executive Director of HEC, said.

Statistics reflect a deliberate effort by the government to increase the enrollment of students pursuing STEM-related courses at university.

Over the next 10 years, the Government seeks to raise the percentage of STEM students by 90 per cent.

Prof. Nelson Ijumba, the Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research at the University of Rwanda, believes that the emphasis on STEM courses will drive innovation.

“The government realised that if we promote science and technology all the way from lower primary schools to the higher learning institutions then we are going to have the likelihood of a country progressing in terms of science technology and innovation,” he said.

The university targets a ratio of 80 per cent stem students against 20 per cent for no-stem students over the next five years, IJumba said.

Out of the seven colleges at the university, four offer stem courses but the number of Stem students is still very low.

“Few students meet the requirements to study STEM programmes,” he said.

Ijumba disclosed that the university invests 30 per cent of its budget in infrastructure, most of it is for provision and improvement of teaching and research facilities.

“We try as much as possible to encourage students to apply for STEM subjects and we hope that many of them can get government sponsorship because it is a priority in terms of the distribution,” Ijumba said.

According to Fabien Habimana, the Director of Science Technology, Innovation and Research at the Ministry of Education – plans are underway to encourage students to opt for STEM subjects from lower primary school level.

Currently, the ratio of STEM students is 58.7 per cent of those in upper secondary schools.

“The provision of more scholarships to the best-performing girls and boys will also attract more students to STEM at tertiary level,” he said.

Non STEM equally important

Dr Joseph Ryarasa, the founder of social justice organisation Never Again Rwanda and spokesperson of Civil Society Platform, says that while STEM is very important, the investment in STEM subjects should not be at the expense of arts-related subjects.

“STEM is considered to be the future of innovation and has been at the epicentre of all technological and scientific advancements to date. Well, no doubt about that. However, from the proponents of art studies and evidence that humanities are needed for a more integrated approach to development, there is a need for strategies that incorporate and give value to both axes,” said Ryarasa who is himself a medical doctor.

“STEM might be necessary for technological progress, but without the arts, it is impossible for students to reach their full potential,” he added.

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