Students give up strike over change of grants to loans

Under the repressive regime of President Pierre Nkurunziza, students have ended a month-long strike against a presidential decree changing the system of university grants into one of loans.

The students who had gone on strike at the beginning of April had to resign themselves to “return to the lecture halls, hoping the authorities will stop the penalties in favour of dialogue”, a student representative told the French newspaper Libération.

Until the decree of 1 February students received an unconditional study grant of BIF30,000 (US$17.50) monthly. Under the decree this will become a ‘loan-grant’, repayable when students graduate, “which will evolve depending on the cost of living”, Jean-Claude Karerwa Ndenzako, spokesman for the president, told Libération.

Established in 1964 the University of Burundi caters for more than 14,000 students but has places for only 4,000, a situation which made it necessary to reform the system of grants, reported Libération.

Students said they did not know what the criteria for eligibility would be, nor how they would repay the loans if they found no employment, so most of them demanded withdrawal of the decree, said the paper.

The government regarded the strikers as opponents of President Nkurunziza’s third mandate, and the national intelligence service had arrested about 10 students on the Mutanga campus, and five were imprisoned awaiting trial, reported Libération.

The students decided to resume their studies, out of fear, after the university’s student services had threatened to stop paying the grants and exclude all those on strike from the university, reported Libération.

Radio France Internationale, or RFI, reported that successive governments had tried for decades to change the system of student grants to one of loans, but strong student protest had always prevented them.

The powers behind President Nkurunziza thought this was the right time, counting on the climate of fear that currently reigned in the country, said RFI, but students at the University of Burundi and the École Normale Supérieure had defied the authorities and gone on strike.

* Two years after President Nkurunziza decided to seek a third mandate, Burundi is undergoing a serious political crisis, with more than 2,000 deaths and hundreds of cases of people disappeared and tortured according to the United Nations and non-government organisations, reported RFI .

This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.