Dar es Salaam. While senior officials from the Higher Education Student Loans Board (HESLB) are due to appear before the House Social Welfare and Community Development Committee today for questioning, around half of students admitted to colleges and who applied for loans in the 2022/23 academic year missed out.
The senior officials’ appearance before the committee comes after the education minister recently reacted that the HESLB had sabotaged the work of an investigative team he had formed to check the board’s activities during of the past five years.
It was on this basis that President Tulia Ackson ordered senior officials to appear before the committee to respond to the allegations.
Meanwhile, The Citizen observation yesterday showed that around 38,000 (48%) of freshmen who applied for HESLB loans, having previously been admitted to colleges, out of 80,000 who had applied, missed funding this year.
If all first-year student loan applications were accepted, HESLB would need a total of 121.62 billion shillings (based on a public university fee structure for the Bachelor of Arts with Education) for meet their needs.
However, the government has only set aside 570 billion shillings, an amount which was also allocated in the 2021/22 academic year, according to the HESLB.
This means that to meet the student loan requirements for the 2022/23 academic year, the government needed to increase the budget by at least 121.62 billion shillings as shown above.
According to budget estimates from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology presented last May, the government spent in the 2021/22 academic year loans worth 569 billion shillings on the 570 billion shillings planned to meet the needs of 148,581 students.
But instead, the money benefited 177,777 students, as the number of qualified applicants was much higher than previously estimated.
In the 2022/23 academic year, the same amount was allocated to fund the same number of grantees as the previous year, hence the absence of more than half of the new applicants.
According to HESLB, there will be around 42,000 graduates, creating room for around the same number to be covered by the allocated fund which has remained constant.
This means that a student will receive an average of 3.2 million shillings per year, including 2.24 million shillings for books and stationery, meals and housing allowance, while tuition fees rise at 1 million shillings.
Students who need more tuition according to their programs will only receive a certain percentage of the total loan. For example, a program with tuition fees of 1.3 million shillings will only receive 77%.
Therefore, analysis of the figures above shows that an addition of 121.62 billion shillings is necessary if the government is to enable all new loan applicants to be covered. That is if all students received the same amount of 3.2 million shillings per year.
Public outcry grew over claims that some missing loan applicants were those from poor households.
In this regard, experts say that the limited resources available in relation to the ever-increasing number of eligible loan applicants will continue to put pressure on the government and the Council, especially as beneficiaries of the free education policy are now reaching the level of tertiary studies, hence the need to find durable solutions.
“We must understand that the demand for funding by eligible students will continue to increase pressure on the Department of Education. The only way to deal with such a scenario is to think about how to increase funding for higher education,” said Dr Thomas Jabir, education consultant based in Dar es Salaam.
He said HESLB has faced several setbacks including poor loan recovery from beneficiaries due to poor enforcement of the relevant law.
“This is another area the government should think about to ensure the fund is sustainable for generations to come,” he noted.
He added that the government’s decision to completely abolish most charges on loans collected by the HESLB has also given some leeway to some recipients so that they do not feel responsible for servicing the loans, which hurts to the sustainability of the renewable program.
Currently, according to HESLB records, the rate of debt collection stands at 32%, with some employers not cooperating by not reporting employees who have benefited from the loans, while others are not facilitating the disbursement in timely monthly deductions.
“We need to ensure that HESLB can more effectively collect debts, especially from beneficiaries whose debts have come due,” explained higher education expert and researcher Dr Dorothy Masawe.
She noted that despite the limited resources given to HESLB in the face of growing demand for qualified students in need, if debt collection strategies were put in place or applied correctly, all qualified students would obtain funding.
“The charges were actually very painful for the recipients, but at least they made them act more responsibly. Let’s make sure we come up with a new law that will hold employers and debtors to account for failing in their duty to the regime,” she suggested.