The Ugandan government has doubled the number of student loans awarded through the Higher Education Students’ Financing Board (HESFB) with the aim of achieving equitable access to affordable higher education.
With increased government funding of UGX27.7 billion (US$7.2 million) for new and continuing students, 2,950 students were awarded loans in 2018-19, up from 1,448 in the previous academic year. Of this year’s beneficiaries, 2,459 are pursuing undergraduate courses and 491 diploma programmes. The total comprises 27% female and 73% male beneficiaries.
Successful student loan applications have increased from about 30% since the scheme was established in 2014, to 64% this year. State Higher Education Minister Dr John Chrysostom Muyingo said: “We shall continue increasing the numbers, as approved in the ministry’s strategic plan, with the objective of increasing access to education at all levels, and providing equitable access to affordable higher education to eliminate gender and wealth disparities.”
Diploma beneficiaries more than doubled to 491 this year, from 200 last year, and 31 students with disabilities were awarded loans for the second year in a row.
HESFB Chairperson Professor Callisto Locheng said the scheme primarily gives loans to disadvantaged students and the board considers regional balance, gender equity and socio-economic factors before awarding these.
Loans are mainly awarded to undergraduate students in the science and technology fields, those pursuing diploma courses in health sciences and science in education, and humanities students with disabilities.
Science field shortage
Muyingo said loans are mostly awarded to science students as Uganda faces a considerable shortage of manpower in this field. Students with disabilities are considered a special group, due to problems they may encounter in pursuing science courses.
As a result, there has been an increase in approved undergraduate programmes to 126 in this academic year (2018-19), from 76 in 2017-18. These include four humanities degrees in the affirmative action category for students with disabilities – Bachelor of Law, Bachelor of Arts with Education, Bachelor of Social Sciences and Bachelor of Psychology. Science and technology diploma courses on offer increased from 63 to 71.
The number of universities and diploma-awarding institutions admitting students with study loans also increased this year. Universities now offering business programmes for students with disabilities include the Mountains of the Moon University and the Makerere University Business School.
A 9% growth in applications was recorded this year, from 4,218 in 2017-18 to 4,603, with a 67% success rate, compared to an average of 30% of the total annual applicants since 2014.
HESFB Executive Director Michael Wanyama said that since 2014, a total of 1,751 students have graduated. Some have found employment and 628 of them must begin to repay their loans. However, he cautioned that some disadvantaged students drop out of the scheme, as it does not include accommodation and food.
He added that they are sensitising the public and have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Federation of Uganda Employers so that the HESFB can recoup its loans, since the fund is a revolving one.
HESFB Chairperson Locheng said: “The board has given [the students] a grace period of one year, but also encourages early repayment.” He added that the loans, disbursed directly to tertiary institutions and not to beneficiaries, cover tuition fees, functional costs, research fees and aids for persons with disabilities.
The board has, to date, awarded loans to 8,197 students at 20 universities and 330 other tertiary institutions. It had adopted a scheme similar to Kenya’s Higher Education Loans Board initiative, established in 1995, after it studied similar initiatives in Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Canada that disbursed loans, bursaries and scholarships.
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