Bursaries, broken dreams

NEVER before has the issue of awarding bursaries generated so much interest in the history of higher education in Zambia than it has this time.

It has been highlighted by the death of 19-year-old Musanka Makwambwa who committed suicide by drinking Doom, an insecticide, after she discovered that her name has been left out from the list of successful applicants.
Young Musanka who obtained six points at Grade 12 was very sure that with her excellent results, securing a bursary at the University of Zambia (UNZA) was a done deal but to her disappointment, that was not the case.
This is the predicament of so many other students most of whom are from vulnerable backgrounds and cannot afford the very high fees being charged at UNZA and other tertiary institutions. But unfortunately, the failure to get a bursary drove Musanka into depression which ultimately led her to taking her own life.
Below is part of an email I received from another student who also failed to secure a bursary.
I met this girl Musanka Makwamba on campus when I was doing my medicals and got to know her on a personal level. Musanka died in Lusaka’s Kalinglinga township after having ingested two cans of insecticide due to the depression brought about by the news that she wasn’t offered a student loan.
Musanka was an intelligent girl filled with dreams and aspirations and her plea for the GRZ student loan was sincere as she and many others of us cannot afford the university fees and it is a shame that the people put in that position to ensure people like her obtain this financial aid could not see it. It had to cost us a life for these people to hear our plea for financial aid in order to obtain an education from our country’s highest learning institution. My humble appeal is for the Government to put in a little more funding when it comes to educating us the young leaders of this country.
Some students who have been trying to secure bursaries have complained of the manner they have been treated, they are literally chased away like they are a menace to the bursaries officers. I am sure she recalled the treatment she went through at the bursaries offices and hence lost hope of ever getting the sponsorship and graduating from UNZA. In the past students like Munsaka who performed extremely well were automatically given bursaries.
It was therefore, encouraging to hear Minister of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education Dr John Phiri acknowledge that the suicide was a wake-up call on the financial predicament that vulnerable students find themselves in funding their studies. This was after he conveyed his condolences to Munsaka’s family in Parliament last Friday.
In a ministerial statement, Dr Phiri said Government will ensure that the Bursaries Committee is transformed into a Loans Board to benefit students. UNZA received 17,000 applications for the 2014 academic year and three quarters of the applicants were offered places but only about 2,600 students were considered for bursaries.
According to the fee structure for first year students for 2014/2015 academic year, science and medicine-based programmes have been pegged at K21,774.70 per year while the art-based programmes are at K17,627.13. This includes other costs like medical examination, student union subscription, internet and library.
It is my hope and of so many other people that all students in all institutions of learning will be given an opportunity to access these students loans. They should not be restricted to only one group of students. Tuition fees are extremely high even for those who are not classified as vulnerable because their parents or guardians are in some form of employment; whether formal and formal.
I am sure when the reforms are introduced Government will be able to learn how other countries have been recovering loans from beneficiaries once the students graduate without excessively burdening them. In some countries it takes twenty years or more to repay student loans but it is done in a systematic manner because records are properly maintained.
Regardless of what others might think, an educated youth is important for national development. The provision of education must not be seen as an expense in the short term; it is an investment. According to American Neil Buchanan, an economist, legal scholar, professor of Law and a senior fellow, countries that are prosperous fall in two categories.
The first category comprises those countries that are endowed large reserves of natural resources such as gold, oil, and farm land. While the second group – a much larger one – is composed of those countries that have educated their citizenry into prosperity.  He writes that the wealthiest countries in the world have reached, or have maintained, that status by investing and having a strong commitment to education.
Mr Buchanan says that countries that want to become great have learned that economic dominance is predicated by the availability of high-quality education; because it is the bedrock of any nation’s economic greatness.
It is a proven fact that when you educate an individual, the people around this person will also be empowered economically. When more citizens are productive, they are able to contribute to the national economy in ways that benefit others far beyond the salaries that they receive.  They are less likely to depend on handouts or even engage in anti social behaviour which sometimes leads to crime.
Let’s hope that the Loans Scheme as announced by Dr Phiri will be a reality in the shortest possible time for the benefit of our so many youth who are feeling so hopeless at the moment. Empowering the youth with education will definitely ensure prosperity for Zambia.
Remember, children are our future, until next week, take care.;

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