Government scraps student bursaries in favour of loans

Zambia’s government has decided to scrap its national bursary scheme and replace it with student loans, following controversies including allegations of corruption that have dogged the bursary initiative for years.

The government also said the bursary scheme has not been benefitting vulnerable students.

Legislation to set up the new loan scheme will be tabled in parliament.

Students obtaining loans will be obliged to pay them back after completing their studies. However, concerns have been expressed over whether this will be possible for graduates who fail to find jobs in a country with high levels of unemployment.

The government is also under pressure to extend loans to those studying towards diplomas, and not to restrict them to degree and postgraduate students.

The imminent introduction of the loan scheme was announced by Phoenix radio station, which reported the government as saying that it would be open to students at public and private universities and colleges.

It quoted Education Permanent Secretary Miriam Chinyama as saying that the loan scheme was meant to eliminate discriminatory practices that characterised the awarding of bursaries, and to extend support to less privileged students.

There have long been claims of rampant corruption in and abuse of the bursary scheme. For example, many have questioned why deserving orphans have failed to secure bursaries while the children of working parents have benefitted.

There were also reports, before current Zambian President Michael Sata came to power last year, that children of politically-connected people were chosen ahead of ordinary citizens.

Zambia’s move to scrap bursaries in favour of a transparent loan scheme follows a decision by Education, Science and Vocational Training Minister John Phiri to change the selection process for study abroad scholarships, to give equal opportunities to all Zambians.

This change followed an outcry by some people who had applied for foreign scholarships, that they seemed to benefit those connected to senior government officials.

Phiri said the new process would ensure that all applicants were interviewed by a broad-based panel chaired by his Deputy Minister, Novelyn Wilombe.

One incident that fed perceptions of undeserving students accessing foreign scholarships was the hospitalisation following a drunken brawl of two Zambian students who were studying in Russia – one of many such incidents over the years.

A number of foreign countries, such as Russia and China, offer scholarships to Zambian to study in their countries, but the selection of beneficiaries is done by the African country.