Parliament- More cash-strapped university students are set to benefit from the government loan facility after authorities yesterday announced six additional courses to be considered under the Students Loan Scheme.
Education minister Jessica Alupo disclosed in a brief to the House Committee on Science and Technology on Tuesday that in addition to the nine courses already approved for the loan scheme in 2014/15 academic year, the government has added other science disciplines.
The supplementary disciplines approved through the Higher Education Students Financing Board are described as “critical” to the national development agenda. They include Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Bachelor of Science in Information Technology (only where students background is Mathematics/Physics), Bachelor of Statistics, Bachelor of Industrial Chemistry, Pure Sciences, Agricultural Extension and Special Needs Education.
“The board awarded the loans to (1,201 qualified) students to pursue 26 programmes which were approved by the board under nine major disciplines,” Ms Alupo said. She promised that more money will be injected in the scheme.
The committee had invited Ms Alupo and other officials to brief them on the progress of the loan scheme and how it is helping to increase the quality and quantity of science and technology in secondary schools and universities.
MPs later asked that the government also considers the arts courses for students loans. The minister promised to evaluate the members request and return with a response.
“We noted the progress and the challenges in the sector but our considered view is that the Students Loan Scheme should also benefit arts students to balance our education needs. We made it clear to the minister that we want to see this proposal implemented as we lobby for more funding for the scheme,” committee vice chairperson Annet Nyakecho Okwenye (Otuke Woman), said.
The minister revealed that 12 universities are participating in the scheme.
Kampala International University tops with 372 students, Makerere University 220, Kyambogo University 150, Ndejje University 137 and Busitema University 99, among others.
The minister said government currently sponsors 4,000 students in public universities. Of these, she said, 3,000 are sponsored on national academic merit, while 53 per cent are sponsored for science courses and 47 per cent for arts and humanities.
The loans scheme was introduced last year to assist students from poor backgrounds complete their education. The beneficiaries are supposed to refund the money after getting jobs.
Ms Alupo said “out of the 1,683 applicants for the loans, 1,325 (78.7 per cent) were approved, of which 298 (22.5 per cent) were female.”
Highlighting the challenges in the sector, the minister cited low quality of science education as a result of shortages of science and mathematics teachers and inadequate infrastructure (particularly laboratories and reagents).
She also complained that the freeze on teacher recruitment “is still holding and yet more teachers, especially those of science, subjects are urgently needed.”