MINISTER of Higher Education Michael Kaingu yesterday told Parliament that Government will soon table a Student Loans Bill to replace the bursaries scheme aimed at providing assistance to vulnerable students at public universities.
And Dr Kaingu says Government is ready to dialogue with the leadership of University of Zambia Students’ Union (UNZASU) and Copperbelt University Students’ Union (COBUSU) with the aim of re-opening the University of Zambia (UNZA) and the Copperbelt University (CBU), which were recently closed following violent protests over meal allowances.
Dr Kaingu said he is hopeful that the Student Loans Bill will be brought to the House soon.
“We have advanced in preparing the Bill for student loans. It is my hope that it will be brought to the House during this session,” Dr Kaingu said.
The minister said this shortly after presenting ministerial statements in response to a question from Chadiza member of Parliament (MP) Allan Mbewe (MMD).
Mr Mbewe wanted to know when the Student Loans Scheme will be implemented as it will resolve the recurring protests at institutions over allowances.
And Dr Kaingu told parliament in his ministerial statement that Government does not take pleasure in closing public universities because it values education and that closures are a cost.
“Closing UNZA and CBU was a very painful decision Government had to make but it was the only option we were left with after violent protests by students,” Dr Kaingu said.
He explained that Government did not owe the students meal allowances at the time they protested as they had been paid upfront for a period of 59 days out of 97 days at CBU and 53 days out of 90 days at UNZA.
“Government is supposed to pay students meal allowances per day but we decided to pay them in advance for convenience sake,” Dr Kaingu said.
He observed that most students do not know how to budget once they are paid meal allowances.
He said this after Kalomo MP Request Muntanga (UPND) asked whether Government had provided food to the students before paying them allowances.
“These students spend their allowance as soon as they get it. They use meal allowances to buy electronic gadgets such as smart phones instead of buying food and they later blame Government,” Dr Kaingu said.
And in responding to Namwala MP Moono Lubezhi (UPND) who asked what yardstick the minister was using to measure the maturity of the students, Dr Kaingu described some students as unteachable and lacking leadership qualities.
“There is no humility in some of these students. The university is a place not just to learn academics but to develop a character of leadership. I appeal to all of us parents to inculcate good character in our students as they are future leaders,” Dr Kaingu said.