Government bows to pressure to award student loans

The government of Tanzania has bowed to pressure from a group of prospective university students who called on the Higher Education Students’ Loan Board, or HESLB, to provide them with funding for the new academic year after many qualifying students missed receiving loans.

The government’s directive came after the chair of the parliamentary committee on social services Margareth Sitta asked parliament what measures had been taken by the government following recent student demonstrations against the perceived ‘unfair’ withholding of student loans.

The prospective students, totalling 1,107, had missed loans after they failed to follow new procedures laid down by the Tanzania Commission for Universities, or TCU, while others could not access the Central Admission System.

Re-application allowed

Phillip Mulugo, deputy minister of education and vocational training, has directed the students to re-apply by filling in the required online loan application forms for the 2013-14 academic year.

He said the ministry would spend Sh1.9 billion (US$1.2 million) that was earlier allocated to cover other costs, and the HESLB would also use Sh21 billion recovered from loan interest and the budget for other costs, to ensure that the qualifying students got loans.

“It is true that most of these students who were left out of the loan scheme had all the required qualifications. We have now directed the loan board to reopen its website and allow students to re-apply,” said Mulugo.

“These are Tanzanians who deserve to get loans and continue with their university studies.”

Reprieve only for certain students

However, the students who will get this reprieve are only those who had applied to study government priority courses.

They are 617 students who had applied for education-arts, 164 for education-science, 111 for science related courses, 98 for science, 70 for engineering, 20 for mathematics, 20 for agricultural science and seven for irrigation engineering.

In August, the Tanzania Commission for Universities announced that a total of 5,000 prospective students would not be joining universities because they had failed to fill in the required forms.

Now the 1,107 students are eligible to re-apply for the courses mentioned – but the fate of the other 3,893 is not yet known.

There is another hurdle to overcome before the eligible students can continue with their studies. The universities where they have applied to study have yet to agree to the government plea to have the fees paid in the next government fiscal year.

“The government is entering into a contractual agreement with the colleges to go ahead and enrol the said students while payment is deferred to the next financial year,” said Mulugo.

According to Mulugo, the funding given by the ministry and the HESLB is to be spent to cover meals and accommodation, stationery, practical training and faculty special needs.

Delays in disbursement

The government’s intervention comes even as some enrolled students are yet to receive their loans to study at universities that have already opened for the academic year.

Some students at Mzumbe University in Morogoro, Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Muslim University of Morogoro have been complaining that they have not yet received their loans.

The HESLB is notorious for delaying the disbursement of loans, especially to first year students, causing protests at universities at the beginning of each academic year. The loan board has in turn complained that the delay in disbursing loans was due to the failure by loan beneficiaries to repay their loans.

In Tanzania, about 40,000 students qualify for HESLB loans each year. The outstanding amount that has not been repaid, which was loaned to university students between 1994 and June 2012, would be enough to fund 345,084 students for a year.

The outstanding debt has built up since 1994, when the government decided to subsidise tuition fees for students entering university to allow for a larger number of high school graduates to pursue higher education, especially children from poor families.

Recently Asangye Bangu, HESLB’s director of planning, research and information communication technology, told University World News that only Sh48 billion of the Sh1.138 trillion disbursed by the government and HESLB during this period had been recovered.