Thousands who qualify left stranded without university places

Close to 22,000 students sought admission to study at the six colleges of the University of Rwanda, but only 8,000 were admitted. A lack of infrastructure and equipment as well as a cut in the government’s subsidy have been blamed for leaving thousands of school-leavers without places.

Ratifa Uwase’s hope to enrol at the University of Rwanda as a government-funded student is fading after the institution rejected her application – despite achieving an excellent aggregate in her school-leaving examination.

Uwase completed secondary school last year (2022) with results that would have, under normal circumstances, granted her the opportunity to be admitted as a government sponsored student to the public University of Rwanda.

“I worked hard in secondary school to perform well and get admission to the University of Rwanda,” she says.

“My hard work paid off. I got 59 out of 60 in the national secondary school examination. At first, I was excited about the great result. I expected to get a government-sponsored bursary. I was shocked when I was rejected,” she says.

Admission to Rwanda’s only public university requires students to have two principal passes from the subjects they wrote during the national school-leaving exams. This means they have to perform well in two major subjects.

The Higher Educational Council’s policy gives admission to students based on their performance in these principal subjects.

Uwase said: “I excelled in all nine subjects I sat for in the national exams and I qualified for admission – only to be rejected without any convincing explanations. I am now in a dilemma.”

In fact, she is one of over 13,000 students who missed out on admission for the 2023-2024 academic year that starts in June 2023. Out of close to 22,000 students who sought admission to study at the University of Rwanda, only 8,000 were admitted. Thousands were left stranded.

Limited capacity

The number of admitted students has decreased over the years. According to the officials from the University of Rwanda, the institution faces admission challenges.

For instance, official figures indicate that the university admitted 11,027 in 2017-2018 and 10,000 students in 2020/2021 academic years respectively.

According to Dr Didas Kayihura Muganga, the University of Rwanda’s acting vice-chancellor, despite qualifying, some students were not admitted due to limited capacity.

The university is the biggest higher learning institution in the country, accommodating over 30,000 students in its six public higher learning institutions, which were autonomous until about 10 years ago.

He said that the university lacks infrastructure, lecturers, laboratories and other teaching equipment that are in short supply and quality could be compromised, should more students be admitted.

“The claim by the students who performed well but could not be admitted is valid,” he admitted in a televised show on Rwanda Television. “The University of Rwanda has the annual capacity to enrol between 5,000 and 6,000 students and this time we exceeded it and 8,000 have been admitted,” he added.

He said that the 8,000 ceiling that exceeds the capacity was decided upon after it was realised that even those who had performed well, could miss out on admission.

Muganga said that the government considers increasing the university capacity to admit more students in the future.

“We shall keep increasing the capacity of the university, infrastructure, lecturers and laboratories to ensure more eligible students are admitted and the quality is not compromised. As of now, we do not have the capacity to accommodate all the students who apply,” he said.

Budget constraints

Financing new students could also have been affected by the budget shortfalls as the higher education sector received less funds than what is required to fund the students in a new academic year (2023/2024).

The Ministry of Planning and Economic Finance has allocated RWF45.1 billion Rwandan Francs (US$50 million) from the required RWF55 billion (US$61.8million) to fund new and already enrolled students. The government had also injected RWF52.7 billion in financing university students in the previous year 2022/2023.

Government sponsored students acquire a tuition fee loan ranging between RWF1.3 million (U$1,480.7) and RWF2.6 million (U$2,961.4) per year depending on the faculty one has been given. In addition to this, They also get RWF40,000 (US$45.5) per month as living allowances.

According to Dr Rose Mukankomeje, the director general of the Higher Education Council, the available budget can fund only a portion of new eligible students.

“This means that the university will be negatively affected. Its management is also based on the generated tuition fees. If the number of admitted students goes down, the university won't be able to function well as it will generate less income,” she said.

The government, through the Higher Education Council, supports the best performing students by giving repayable loans that are serviced after graduating and securing employment.