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How viable is the proposed tertiary funding model?

Publishing Date : 19 February, 2018

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The new government narrative that seeks to reform the tertiary education funding has been necessitated by desire to increase access to tertiary education in Botswana. What the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science, Research and Development is suggesting, is exactly what has become subject of debate in university funding worldwide.

The cost of accessing university education worldwide is shooting up, and nations are beginning conversations on alternative funding, in order to continue achieving universal access to tertiary education. Today, there are many countries in the world which offers virtually free university education such as Germany, France, Finland, Norway and Sweden among others. Have we studied their model for possible consideration?

Our neighbours, South Africa, have already through the ruling African National Congress (ANC) forum declared that tertiary education would start to be free this year.  This has come at the back of massive violent protests by the students in universities schools under the infamous FeesMustFall campaign.

What we perhaps need to discuss as the nation, is why government is confident that the income contingent plan, which Minister of Tertiary Education has stated that would be introduced, would work, when the government failed to recover scholarship loans under the Grant Loan Scheme? Even in countries where it is being used, in jurisdictions like the United Kingdom the fees are eventually paid by the taxpayers because student debts are income contingent and are written off after 30 years.

 More than three-quarters of graduates are predicted to have some debt write-off. That the public will fund middle- or low-earning graduates regardless is raising doubts about the system as a whole.  If the income contingent plan is failing in those countries, how would it work in a country like Botswana, which is among the fourth most unequal societies in the world; has rising unemployment, as well stagnant economy?

They might be good intentions in introducing the policy, but it will prove difficult to implement in a country such as ours. We all need an increased access to tertiary education, but ordinary citizens, who are barely paid good salaries, should not be bear the burden that comes with the policy.  

Minister Dr Madigele is asserting that income contingent policy is a necessary policy to incentivise government to increase access to tertiary education. It has proven in countries where they are battling this policy that higher education makes it increasingly difficult for them to consider postgraduate study or ever to buy a house. The narrative of free education has become a major issue in mainstream politics as evidenced by Labour recent electoral success in Britain’s snap elections, after announcing that they would go for free education once elected in power.  

Madigele has also suggest that the government is considering a partnership with commercial banks over providing government guaranteed loans for students who are willing to pursue programmes that mainly does not fall under the “priority” bracket in the HRDC list of priority programmes. These however raise fears that many are unlikely to pay the loans forcing government to even pay higher amounts as a result of interest rates charged commercial banks.

The income contingent plan is highly unlikely to succeed with having a negative impact on individuals. We must be willing to first address the fundamentals that I wrong with our economy such as unemployment, income disparities as stagnant economy. We have done well, with the current Grant Loan Scheme, though there obviously a need to concur with the minister that it was initially designed only to cater for white-collar careers. That however is not a problem of funding; it was a problem of approach. There are of course competing priorities when it comes to national spending, but education should not be mortgaged or used to trap students especially those from poor families into long-term debts.



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