The Government of Uganda has introduced a number of policy interventions in a bid to increase access to education. The strides are in the areas of Universal Primary Education, Universal Secondary Education and the recently introduced Universal Post O-Level Education and Training. All these programmes have led to increased number of school-going children and increased demand for higher education.
The government White Paper on Education Policy Reform in 1992 emphasised the need to increase access to education for economic and social transformation while the National Development Plan (NDP) I also stipulates the need for investment in human resource. The Uganda Vision 2040 emphasises a transformed Ugandan society from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country within 30 years.
The second National Development Plan 2015/16-2019/2020 theme is ‘Strengthening Uganda’s Competitiveness for Sustainable Wealth Creation, Employment and Inclusive Growth’. All the policy interventions proposed by the NDP II shall be anchored on developing human capital with the relevant skills to champion economic growth.
In light of access to education, NDP I and II stress that higher education is the heart of education as well as the core of national innovation and development systems. Tertiary institutions are the core of development systems because they produce not only the knowledge needed to drive economies but also the skilled human resources required to do the job.
The suggested policy initiatives were the key factors that led to the creation of the Students’ Loan Scheme to support students who qualify for higher education but are unable to meet the costs.
The above objectives will be achieved through a number of strategic interventions among which is to diversify the sources and mechanisms of financing higher education through reforming public financing to target individual students and disciplines , widen and deepen access and ensure there are minimal attrition rates at the higher learning institutions.
In 2005-2006, government introduced a new system to address enrollment imbalance between the Sciences and the Humanities.
In the system, 75 per cent of the 4,000 government-sponsored students are admitted on merit but must be studying subjects deemed critical to national development such as science and technology, law, the performing arts, and economics.
The rest (25 per cent) are reserved to address equity gaps. A quota system was introduced for the best students in each district, persons with disabilities, and athletes of both sexes who meet the minimum requirements of specific institutions and programmes.
Students who do not qualify for government sponsorship pay their own fees at public institutions. The competition for State scholarships mainly favours children from the higher socio-economic strata whose families can afford good secondary schools. This further contributes to the divide between the urban rich and the rural poor.
The response to the unprecedented growth in demand for higher education has been an expansion in service providers with the State playing an increasingly limited role as the number of private institutions and private students in public institutions keeps growing.
From a single university in 1990, according to the National Council for Higher Education, there are 37 universities (six public and 31 private) and a total of 141 other tertiary institutions.
Among the key objectives of NDP 2011 – 2014 was to enhance human capital development as a cornerstone of sustainable development. To achieve this, the higher education students financing board was introduced to ensure more students access education and also target individual disciplines such as science and technology. It was established by an Act of Parliament No. 2 of 2014 as a body mandated to provide loans and scholarships for needy students.
During the academic year 2014/15, the board awarded loans to 1,201 students in 12 participating universities. The board is determined to broaden access to higher education and will, in the next academic year award loans to an additional 1,200 students and consider students pursing diploma programmes as well.
In awarding loans, the board ensures composition of the student loan beneficiaries achieve a more socially acceptable balance among the various socio-economic groups by taking into consideration regional balance, gender, socio-economic needs and equity.
The students’ loan scheme in Uganda serves the deliberate role of increasing access to higher education for the poor. This will greatly contribute to social equity. The board has ensured the most deserving loan applicants are the ones who get the loans. In serving Ugandans better, the board cherishes the values of fairness, transparency, integrity, and innovatiness.
Mr Wanyama is the executive director, Higher Education Students Financing Board