Dutch grant cuts knock back govt

Graduands from a university in Uganda celebrate during a graduation ceremony last year. Hundreds of Ugandans who applied for study scholarships in the Netherlands have had their applications rejected. PHOTO/JOSEPH KIGGUNDU

What you need to know:

Up to Shs18.8b in the scholarships and grants in tuition, and another Shs10b in living expenses, has been lost.

The government of the Netherlands has scrapped Ugandans off a list of countries whose nationals are eligible to receive funding for postgraduate degree programmes (MA and MSc) in the Netherlands.

This is under the Netherlands Fellowships Programme or Nuffic–NFP Fellowships and the Orange Knowledge Programme Scholarships.

The decision means up to Shs18.8b in the scholarships and grants in tuition, and another Shs10b in living expenses, has been lost.

Professionals in Uganda have until now been on a list of 62 countries eligible for the scholarships funded by the Dutch Foreign Affairs ministry under its development cooperation budget.

Saturday Monitor has since established that hundreds of Ugandans who applied for the scholarships have since been informed—mostly via email from the group training team at Nuffic— that their applications will not be handled.

One applicant shared an email response with this newspaper.

It read: “Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has informed us that the applications from Uganda or taking place in Uganda will have to be put on hold. This means the applications from Uganda or taking place in Uganda will not be processed.”

Ms Karin Boven, the Netherlands ambassador to Uganda, was unavailable for a comment about the development. The Embassy of the Netherlands in Kampala, however, provided an independent corroboration in an email last Thursday.

“We have indeed received information that the applications from Uganda have been put on hold and await additional communication from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding this matter,” the embassy revealed via email.

Dr Chris Baryomunsi, the ICT and National Guidance minister, was quick to downplay the development. He told Saturday Monitor that Uganda has adequate facilities to provide its citizens with the required education and training.

“We have enough institutions here for Ugandans to get training and education up to doctorate level. If they have chosen to deny Ugandans scholarships, that is their business,” Dr Baryomunsi said.

No explanation

The embassy did not advance any reasons for the decision. On its part, the Nuffic team tersely made reference to “current circumstances” informing its action. It did not, however, provide further details even when prodded.

Sources within the government alluded to President Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law being responsible for the current state of affairs. Mr Museveni assented to the Bill on May 26, even as countries in the West, among them the Netherlands, warned of a possible backlash on several fronts. We were unable to corroborate this presumption.

The Netherlands was one of the first countries to condemn the passing of the law, which Ms Liesje Schreinemacher, the Dutch minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, described as “extreme anti-LGBTIQ+ legislation.”

The Netherlands was also one of the first countries to announce reprisals. Mr Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch minister for Foreign Affairs, tweeted that “the Netherlands stands for the defence of human rights for all and strongly calls on Uganda to do the same.” He proceeded to announce that the country was scaling down on its development cooperation with Uganda.

The country indicated that it would reduce funding in development cooperation by up to €25m (approximately Shs101.4b) over the next five years. Despite that, Dr Baryomunsi told Saturday Monitor that Uganda will not be bullied into repealing the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“We shall not apologise for passing a law that is in the interest of Ugandans. If they chose to cut aid or deny Ugandans scholarships because of that, that is their business, but we have no apologies whatsoever,” Dr Baryomunsi said.


Saturday Monitor was unable to immediately establish how many Ugandans have been affected by the decision or the value in Euros of the scholarships, fellowships, and grants that have been lost. It is, however, estimated that Ugandans have missed out on Shs18.8b in tuition fees and up to Shs10b in living expenses.

However, the website www.wemakescholars.com indicates that the Netherlands had earlier made available 234 scholarships, fellowships and grants for Ugandan students to study there.

The cost of a Master’s degree course in the Netherlands averages at €20,000 (about Shs81m a year). Uganda has lost about Shs19b worth of scholarships if the website’s tally of 234 is to be considered.

The website www.study.eu puts the average monthly cost of living for an international student between €800 (Shs3.2m) and €1,200 (Shs4.9m). That includes the cost of accommodation and other living expenses, and comes down to between Shs28.8m and Shs43.2m over a nine-month period. Since these are usually full board scholarships, it means anywhere between Shs6.7b and Shs10.1b in living expenses for each of the 234 Ugandans has been lost.

No contingency?

At the end of June, the Government of Uganda (GoU) put in place a contingency plan to meet possible budget shortfalls that had been expected to arise in case development partners moved to withhold critical funding. The GoU, especially made available funds to cater to the HIV/Aids response.

It is not clear whether sectors like education had been prepared for this kind of development. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Education, Mr Dennis Mugimba, was not available for a comment about the matter.

The Higher Education Students’ Financing Board (HESFB) recently announced that—for the first time since the inception of the scheme in 2014—the GoU will suspend study loans for needy students. Budget constraints and the growing tuition arrears with universities—totalling nearly Shs16b—were cited.

Who’s affected

The Nuffic training team’s email indicates that those who have been affected include those who had applied for short courses. This includes one-year Masters’ degree courses under rounds one and two of the Orange Knowledge Programme for individuals.

Round one of the OKP scholarships has a budget of €18m (Shs73b), out of which €4m (Shs16.2b) is available to the short courses.

Uganda had been on the list of 20 “category A” countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa, among others, whose applicants get a share of the €3m (Shs12b) that is available for the academic year 2023/2024.

Others who have lost out are Ugandan professionals who had applied for Masters degree courses under a €10m (Shs41b) budget and other bespoke training programmes tailored for mostly non-government organisations.