TANZANIA: Funding boost for science, maths students

In an effort to increase numbers of health professionals, the Tanzanian government will from the next academic year grant full scholarships to new medical students. First-year students of science teaching and maths will also be fully-funded. And to speed up disbursement, student funds are to be channeled through universities rather than the government's loans board.

Minister of Education and Vocational Training Dr Shukuru Kawambwa recently issued new guidelines on student funding as a result of a presidential commission that was formed in February this year by President Jakaya Kikwete to look into the workings of Tanzania's Higher Education Students' Loans Board.

The formation of the commission was prompted by ongoing protests from university students and some political party leaders that the loans board was not doing its job properly. Almost every year, student demonstrations, strikes and sometimes violent clashes with security forces have caused the authorities to close universities temporarily.

The education minister said in Dodoma that the decision to grant more scholarships and loans was aimed at encouraging more secondary school students to pursue science subjects, which for some time now have been unpopular.

He said under the new arrangement all loan applicants who want to pursue science teaching courses, mathematics and medical sciences would be granted 100% scholarships, while those pursuing engineering or agriculture studies would receive 100% loans.

The government would also offer 100% loans for food and accommodation, practical training, books, stationery and research.

The minister insisted that since the number of applicants was big, the focus would be on admitting students pursuing science education, medical sciences, engineering, and agricultural and animal sciences.

Although a shortage of qualified teachers, laboratories and lack of equipment contribute to the failure by most of the country's students to pursue science subjects and mathematics, it is hoped that increasing the number of scholarships and loans will start to remedy the situation.

"Unlike in previous years, the beneficiaries won't be required to refund the money after their graduation...we want to encourage more students to take science subjects because this is where our country is lacking," Kawambwa said.

Previously, students have demonstrated against the loans board's protracted disbursement of allowances for meals, accommodation and practical training. In future the funds will be paid through universities, once the board had completed the verification process.

"Every university should now establish a permanent department with highly qualified personnel under the vice-chancellor's office...We don't want to hear noises against the loans board again," said Kawambwa.

Surprisingly, the new funding arrangements will only affect new entrants in the 2011-12 academic year starting in September-October. Those continuing their studies from previous years will be governed by previous loan arrangements.

The education minister said that loans would be offered depending on the national priority of the profession involved, applicants' passing grades and their "eligibility". The latter would be determined by assessing physical disabilities, whether or not the applicant was an orphan, details of the school where the applicant had studied, and financial means testing.

But the ministry could again be in for protests after Kawambwa announced that students at private universities would receive loans equal to those granted to public university students. Traditionally, private universities have charged higher tuition fees than public institutions.

In a related development, with regard to the slow pace of loans repayments, the minister announced that by-laws would be revisited. "However, we have decided that beneficiaries will be contributing only 8% of their monthly salaries, since some people receive [such] low pay that they can't pay above that," he emphasised.