Government turns to past students for scholarship funds

The Zimbabwe government is crafting a law that will ensure that all people who received student loans since independence in 1980 repay a flat fee of US$1,000.

The country’s Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo said the money will be used to establish a scholarship fund to support students.

“Our ministry is reviewing a proposal for all who got grants or loans from public universities to repay US$1,000 by law. A flat amount is a practical solution. The money would go into a pool for a scholarship fund,” the minister said.

The new loan scheme will be contained in a new higher education law that is expected to be tabled in parliament.

The move comes weeks after the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe said in a statement it had approved six financial institutions to work with in order to conduct a feasibility study and come up with a viable operational framework for a student loan facility to be introduced in August.

The loan scheme is a joint venture of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to finance underprivileged students’ access loans to finance their studies.

Student grants were discontinued in 2006 due to cash flow challenges and were replaced by the cadetship programme in 2010.

Under the cadetship programme, students receive financial support and work in the country for three years while repaying the money, while universities hold the original copies of their certificates.

However, the programme did not yield the desired results as it was dogged by funding challenges and failed to pay fees to hundreds of students, leading to some learners failing to sit for examinations.

The majority of graduates also failed to get jobs, while those trying to seek employment outside the country were disadvantaged by having to use certified copies of their degree certificates.

The Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education has since said bonded students could buy themselves out of the bonding system to access their original certificates before a new loan scheme is introduced.

The Zimbabwe National Students Union, or ZINASU, recently petitioned Moyo to ensure the “adoption of economically sensitive tuition fees payment plans by all colleges and universities”.

ZINASU said the minister should stop the “unprecedented astronomical spike” in student deferments and dropouts owing to students’ inability to pay tuition fees.

It said failure by government to own up to its financial obligations to colleges and universities across the country was forcing administrators to cover the gap by imposing expensive tuition fees on economically vulnerable students.

The student union said access to education has become an uphill battle for thousands due to dwindling government funding in the face of increased student enrolment and double intakes at institutions of higher learning.

“The average tuition fees charged in Zimbabwean colleges and universities by far [surpass] the average annual income of an average Zimbabwean.

“As such, there is need for a rational convergence in the tuition fees payment demands by universities and colleges and payment plans that are sensitive to our lived contemporary economic realities as students in the struggle for academic excellence,” ZINASU said in its petition.

The union said it does not desire a scenario whereby students are barred from accessing education on the basis of failing to make a once-off tuition fee payment in the current hard economic times.