Monday April 28 2014

Fix gaps in students’ loan scheme

By Adventino Banjwa

The students’ loan scheme launched by President Museveni last week has, from media reports, been received with mixed reactions. While there are those who believe in the ‘salvation’ power of the initiative, others are skeptical; they believe a lot of gaps need to be fixed if this scheme is to succeed. And considering the bad record of many past otherwise well-intended government initiatives, it is not farfetched to be doubtful.
Students’ loan schemes have become a central issue in financing higher education around the world in recent years. Today, more than 60 countries have implemented these schemes using different models.

Uganda, therefore, has the opportunity avoid strategic mistakes done by other countries and adopt best practices from across the world to make this highly desirable initiative a success.

My concern with the scheme is that the manner in which it has been designed is ill-advised! Why target only science students? Does this imply that other disciplines are filled with students from well-to-do families, or that they are generally irrelevant given the manpower demands of our society? I think Science programmes alone cannot be a panacea to the development challenges of our society.
From the official political rhetoric, it is clear that the scheme is targeting ‘poor’ students. But there are questions surrounding the mechanism to be used in identifying the targeted ‘poor’ students in a country where income tax data is nearly non-existent.

How are we going to avoid the Jamaican case where the Students’ Loan Bureau registered an unexpected number of beneficiaries from wealthiest families? Our Higher Education Finance Board should take note of this.

Also of interest is the availability and sustainability of funds. What is the probability that funds will be available for new loans and expand coverage? In many countries, funds from private sources have been tapped to compensate for the dwindling public resources. Strategies to ensure repayment are also crucial. How are we going to keep track of recipients after graduation to ensure repayment?

Finally, given the corrupt nature of our society, how sure are we that the funds will not be stolen? This scheme has potential to make a turnaround in our education sector but if it is not properly managed, it may soon join the endless list of ‘dead’ government interventions.