By George N. Mtonga
I certainly applaud the Zambian government for the introduction of student loans for Zambian students. This move will certainly expand access to education, because in the past those who didn’t qualify for bursary had no other sources of funding their education. But these loans are not going to be collateralized and our mechanisms for collecting the money back will certainly be a challenge. Currently, there is no definitive platform that shows that when students graduate we will have the technology to track them and collect against their wages their payments for the loans. This program may result in high default rates on the issues loans. This is something that we can work on as we continue to build this platform. Regardless of the challenges, it’s a great initiative and in the long run it should be smoothed to function efficiently.
However, we need to attach qualification of the loans to a National Service Program. This NSP would allow Zambian children before they go to University to volunteer in their respective communities. We can get them to work in Ministries, Hospitals, Parliament etc. And it would be incumbent on them to finish this program to qualify for jobs or any student loan program; of course we would not expect this for private sector jobs but NSP participation would be required for all government jobs (civil service or running for political office etc). This would undercut labor consumption within the civil service and save the government a lot of payroll money. With this program, we can generate anywhere between $50million to $150million in labor input from the participants of the program that is a savings of $250million to $750million over 5 years. NSP participation would be required for all Zambians, including those educated abroad. If you have lived abroad and you work as a doctor and relocate to Zambia, your NSP service can take a form of 1000 hour to 5000hour volunteer at the UTH or another government health facility.
WE HAVE a labor force that will benefit from taxes collected by people already working; but we can still tap into them when they are between 9 to 12 grades. They can clean the streets, paint schools etc. And we can get this labor for free, assuming that when they go to university they get the benefit of their labor through their student loan qualification and qualification for other government programs. These programs have been in effect in the United States as well as the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
WE ARE MAKING A RISKY bet providing these loans, and its only normal that we get something out of the children who will be going to college. WE HAVE TO INTRODUCE a National Service Program designed to improve the volunteerism of our children. And by attaching it to loan qualifications, we would give children an incentive to make sure they succeed and pass the program before they can secure any funding from government or apply for a job in government.