The Higher Education Students’ Financing Board (HESFB) wants the government to fast-track a seamless system that admits all higher education students for both public and private institutions in the country, writes YUDAYA NANGONZI.
Michael Wanyama, the HESFB executive director, said the government white paper and the national policy on the transformation of higher education recommended for a central admissions board but it has not been achieved to date.
“The board relies on admissions from universities which are then followed by the Other Tertiary Institutions (OTIs) to start its selection process. However, over the years, we have noted that the JAB section process takes quite a long time to commence and this delays our processes,” Wanyama said.
He said the inability to synchronize admission dates between public and private institutions and OTIs has caused a lot of selection challenges and led to the delayed release of the list of beneficiaries. Wanyama was speaking at the 32nd Joint Admissions Board (JAB) selection exercise for the 2021/22 academic year held recently at Nabisunsa Girls School.
Last week, at least 8,505 were admitted to 37 public OTIs to study diploma programmes in Business, Agriculture, Forestry, and Technical and Health-related courses, among others. To spur economic growth, Wanyama explained that the country needs a critical mass of students from OTIs but many often miss out on the study loans due to late admissions.
“OTIs are known to offer priority technical and vocational programs that offer demand-driven skills needed by most employees in the job market. We see most of our beneficiaries from OTIs getting employment before their counterparts from universities which calls for a sustainable plan on how fast they can apply for the loans,” he said.
The board now plans to increase the number of beneficiaries in OTIs from the current 200 to 300 this year and 500 in the ensuing years.
“UNIQUE ACADEMIC YEAR”
Due to Covid-19 disruptions in the education sector, the 2021/22 academic year has been unique in the history of the board’s operations, according to Wanyama. In the previous years, by this time, the list of loan beneficiaries would have been released, which has not been the case.
The board advertised for the eighth cohort of loan applicants in October 2021 ending on November 31 hoping that by the end of the period, all universities and OTIs would have completed the admission exercise.
This period elapsed before five out of the 10 public universities and OTIs had finalized the admission, thus necessitating an extension. The affected public universities were; Makerere, Kyambogo, Gulu, Lira, and Soroti. The board has since extended the timeline to January 15, 2022, so that all institutions conclude their admissions.
“For the first time, we are going to award student loans in two lots, if not three, because I am not sure whether the new deadline will address the plight of OTIs that are just beginning the selection exercise [which ended on Friday, January 7, 2022],” Wanyama said.
“I don’t know what time they [OTIs] are releasing the final lists, time for applying of students for the loans, and when they intend to start the academic year. This is a challenging time for students because they may not get ample time to apply for the loans.”
Students entering OTIs are expected to report on January 31, 2022, a date heads of institutions are afraid that some students are likely not to honor due to late admissions.
For students who applied by the deadline time of November 30, 2021, the list of successful beneficiaries was released last week. Out of the 4,797 applications, at least 920 including continuing finalists were awarded study loans. Of the 920 students, 464 were male and 456 female.
Beneficiaries in the second category whose deadline was extended to January 15, 2022, will be released on February 4, 2022, to cover students in public OTIs and the five universities that failed to beat the first deadline.
As the board awaits more applications, it is also concerned that the resource envelope has remained stagnant despite an increment in the number of beneficiaries.
The number of applicants per year has exponentially grown to more than 7,000 and it is estimated to reach 9,000 this academic year. Currently, the HESFB has received at least 5,000 applications without those from OTIs and the affected five universities.
Yet, the board is also for the first time funding 120 continuing students in their final year of study who have experienced funding difficulties along the way. For the 2021/22 academic year, the government has appropriated Shs 6bn to cover all beneficiaries, including continuing students.
Meanwhile, the current contribution of government to public universities stands at 0.30 per cent since 1999 while the higher education budget stands at less than 10 per cent of the total education budget. According to Wanyama, these amounts are too meager to allow universities and OTIs to attain their mandates.
“The National Development Plan (NDP) proposes at least one per cent of the national budget to go towards higher education while the sub sector’s budget is increased to at least 20 per cent. I think it is time we worked as a team and lobbied for more funding to achieve the intended aspirations of the NDP which advocates for equitable access to business, technical, vocational training, and tertiary education,” he said.
He added that more funding should target OTIs because of their unique role of producing graduates who are job creators hence solving the under/unemployment puzzle that characterizes most developing countries. Commenting on the inadequate funding, the state minister for Higher Education, Dr John Muyingo said the education ministry will continue to lobby for more funds.
“I reaffirm the government’s commitment to supporting higher education in order not to comprise quality at this level. As we ask the government for money, institutions should effectively utilize what has been given to them thus far and more [funds] will be released,” Muyingo said.
He emphasized that the policy on admission to OTIs is still a minimum of five passes at O-level, one principal pass and two subsidiary passes at A-level in both arts and sciences for government and privately-sponsored students.
HESFB supports needy but brilliant students pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics programs – save for students with special needs that undertake arts programs recommended by the board.
The loan only covers students’ tuition, functional fees, research fees, and funds to cover aids and appliances for persons with disabilities. The JAB chairperson and vice chancellor of Kyambogo University, Prof Eli Katunguka urged the board to consider supporting students to acquire learning gadgets such as iPads, computers, and laptops.
“The way things are moving, we need to embrace virtual learning to catch up with the lost time. We are aware parents have been heavily affected by Covid-19 but learning must continue. If the board can consider a small fund for the beneficiaries targeting e-learning, it will be in a good direction,” Katunguka said.
The number of loan beneficiaries has grown from 1,201 in 2014/15 to at least 11,187 students in the 2021/22 academic year. This comprises 9,632 undergraduate degree and 1,555 diploma students in 20 universities and 36 public OTIs.