Two recent decisions by the Ministry of Education have been widely frowned upon in the corridors of public tertiary institutions. Before our institutions of higher learning could come to terms with the cutting of State funding by 25 percent, Government-sponsored students have cried foul following another major decision.
It has been announced that, effective next January, there will be no more monthly allowance of Frw25, 000 to every Government-sponsored student.
During last evening’s town hall meeting, the Education stalwarts explained at length the reason behind the two decisions.
According to the Education chiefs, both decisions are part of a deliberate policy of shifting away from huge State spending at the tertiary education level, to more funding of secondary school, and technical and vocational education programmes.
Yet, the officials looked unease to explain the policy shift perhaps due to the fact that the decision has been communicated a little late, they were visibly convinced that it was the way to go.
It’s not an easy thing to wake up one morning and announce that you have less than three months to withdraw what someone considers to be his/her lifeline.
Many people, I inclusive, are beneficiaries of the allowance, and it’s understandable that some students will fear for the worst once the tap is closed.
As was the case during my university days, many students use this monthly allowance to pay rent for shared small houses outside the campus, or in the varsity hostels.
This has been the case for many years and every student who attained Government cut-off points in their pre-university examinations was certain to receive the allowance.
As was rightly stated by Minister Murigande, last evening, even children from well-to-do families including those of leading businesspersons and ministers, receive the monthly allowance, which means that not all beneficiaries actually need it.
However, that the Government failed to ascertain people who genuinely need the bursary should not be blamed on the students. The responsibility lies with the officials in charge.
This does not mean that there are no students who genuinely depend on it because of their poor background.
Nonetheless, parents and guardians should step in, as the minister suggested, and take over the responsibility in the same way they provide for their children who are still in primary and secondary schools.
While looking after a child who attending university away from home is by no means comparable to taking care of a primary of secondary school child who stays under the same roof as you, it’s not something undoable.
Many parents whose children were unable to secure Government sponsorship are doing it.
It is also true that even the Frw25, 000 has been too little compared to the needs that come with university education, apart from tuition. As such, many parents/guardians have had to top up on the monthly government allowance.
In the same way, parents and guardians should dig a little deeper and ensure that children do not see their university education slip away, as some have already indicated in the media.
The private sector could also play a positive role by building affordable hostels around universities and providing other services such as meals and photocopying class notes.
Banks may also consider this as a business opportunity and possibly extend soft loans to students as long as their parents/guardians are able to present collateral on their behalf. The collateral may be in the form of land, a common asset for households in rural Rwanda.
Then, the beneficiaries of the loan would gradually repay after school, in the same way the beneficiaries of the Government’s monthly allowance are required to.
That the Government has promised to continue assisting the most disadvantaged students so that they don’t drop out of school is an indication that the policy change is in good faith.
Also, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Government continues to foot the tuition bill for the students it sponsors.
For a country like ours, it gives higher economic benefits in the long-run to invest more in primary, secondary, and technical and vocational education, than university education.
Statistics indicate that 25% of the education budget has been going to tertiary education, with just 24,098 students, while all the other education wings, with a combined 2.8 million student population, have been sharing the balance.
Mathematically, that’s unreasonable considering that the bulky of our students are in the pre-university education.
What will turn Rwanda into a knowledge-based economy is not everyone going to the university, but to empower majority of our people with skills that will earn them a descent living.
I have no doubt that Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system will play a major role in this transforming the knowledge-base of this country.
TVET has largely been said to be the secret behind Singapore’s economic success, which saw the country leap from a GDP per capita of about US$500 in early 1960s to a remarkable $37000 in 2008.
The recent decisions should be the beginning of a long journey to overhaul our education system.
The writer is a training editor with The New Times.