Bursary cancellation is a necessary evil

When it was announced a month ago that universities and other institutions of higher learning were already feeling the pinch resulting from the 25 percent budget, I wrote in support of the government’s decision. But there was more to come. 

When it was announced a month ago that universities and other institutions of higher learning were already feeling the pinch resulting from the 25 percent budget, I wrote in support of the government’s decision. But there was more to come. 

Any government with limited resources will always be forced to prioritise some programmes at the expense of others. This scenario certainly leads to unpopular but necessary decisions. Of the late the decision to cut the student lifeline that is popularly known as ‘bourse’ has raised a lot of dust.

The government again in an effort to direct more funds to the lower education levels has decided to cancel the monthly stipend that government sponsored students were entitled to. As expected, the students have cried foul saying life will be unbearable without this money.

However the education ministry has stuck to its guns with the decision that is expected to be effected starting with the next academic year. According to me, there are two ways to look at this issue. One is from the students’ perspective while the other is from the ministry or government angle.

The government has been embarking on an ambitious programme to extend free education to more children beyond the primary level. After years of providing free primary education, the government realised that there was a huge drop out rate soon after primary six since many could not afford the tuition for secondary education.

During the just concluded presidential elections, the incumbent candidate, promised to extend the free education to cover 12 years (up to Senior 6). Since he was voted back into office, it is imperative on him and his government to fulfil this election pledge.

The problem is that this endeavour requires money and the government has to look for that money. Therefore, it appears that some officials sat down and concluded that the money used for the university stipend can be put to better use. 

Of course the students find this very unfair since it is based on the assumption that the money can easily be got from other sources or that it was even not that important. Anyone in there shoes would cry foul.

If you want to understand their situation just imagine if your boss announced that he was cutting your salary by 25,000 starting next month. It’s usually sugar-coated as cost cutting but the pain is not sugary at all.

The students may understand the fact that the government is in a tight corner and has to make unpopular decisions. However the fact that the decision will take effect next year and yet this year is almost gone means that they are not being given enough time to devise a Plan B.

I believe the ministry or government could have handled this decision much better if for instance it was to affect only those who are to join the university next year and not those already used to the stipend. Those who have not yet tasted this money will certainly be better placed to do without it than those who are definitely accustomed to it.

Telling students to look for jobs as a remedy to this problem is akin to Marie Antoinette’s cake for bread mantra that preceded the French Revolution.

How will the job market suddenly accommodate thousands undergraduates yet it clearly cannot absorb the graduates. I also don’t understand why those studying abroad will not be affected yet they are the ones who stand better chances of finding meaningful employment.

All said and done, we need to accept the fact that tough times call for tough measures. This unpopular move is just one such measure that the government has to make.

I am just praying that some of this money being channelled to the lower education levels is spent on improving the teachers’ salaries especially primary school teachers who earn very little compared to the prevailing high costs of living in this country.

ssenyonga@gmail.com

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