The cost of university education is likely to go high, following a decision by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) to have its member institutions raise their fees. Depending on the course being undertaken, university education fees are going to range from Frw530,000 to 1,325,000 per academic year.
Up to now students, say at UNILAK, the university that has had difficulties acquiring an operating licence from government, have been paying not more than Frw300,000 per annum. Only five years ago that fee stood at a mere Frw120,000. Government says the institution does not fulfil the minimum facilities necessary for providing the threshold quality education to students.
There are other institutions of higher learning like Kigali Institute of Management and Byumba Polytechnic Institute facing the threat of cancellation of their operating licences for failure to provide the minimum quality, according to NCHE.
This is where NCHE comes in. Whereas the law stipulates that boards for these higher learning institutions shall determine tuition fees, the council has the mandate to ensure students obtain at least the threshold quality education. Indeed students need protection because they could easily get a raw deal since they are ignorant about what they should get exactly in return for their pay.
NCHE is in position to tell the type of education a particular learning institution will be able to provide simply by looking at the amount of money it charges. In its view, the amount being charged by private institutions at the moment is way below what should be the minimum cost for providing threshold quality education.
Unless the institutions, even private ones, are able to get subsidies from other sources besides students’ fees, they will not, with the current rates, stock libraries, hire qualified staff, ensure security and integrity of examinations. And the standard we are talking about here is the minimum, and not a luxury, compared with what is seen in other EAC countries.
In the UK for example, higher education is almost double the cost of school education. Here a student at Green Hills Academy pays double what a UNILAK student parts with. Yet there is no shortcut to attaining quality higher education. So you wonder whether it will not be by miracle that our graduates will cease to be the kind of quality the 2007 Government Retreat was deeply concerned with.
There is no denying that the ordinary Rwandan is really poor. Nevertheless, it must be understood that asking us to pay more for higher education is what is more likely to ultimately deliver us from poverty, than pretending that paying friendly amounts will take us where we want be.
We might also want to remember that the total cost of higher education diminishes in the face of the lifetime investment that is the quality university education.