The Rhetoric of Free Higher Education System and Recovery of Students’ Loans

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The Government's newly built Kapasa Makasa University
The Government’s newly built Robert Kapasa Makasa University in Chinsali

By Isaac Mwanza

Introduction

In many WhatsApp and social media platforms, Zambian students have been discussing the demand by Government for beneficiaries of government bursaries to pay back their bursaries as loans, through the Higher Education and Scholarships Board. The demand affects students who benefitted from students’ loans dating back to 2004. There is a mixed feeling but these discussion among students lean favourably in support of the United Party for National Development (UPND) who have given a campaign promise to write off the loans and offer free education. The question is, what is the problem and how can students get a win-win situation with government?

Can Zambia sustain free education?

Zambia’s main opposition party the UPND have a right to campaign and get support using the promise of students’ loan write-off, just as the PF campaigned for lower taxes and more money in our pockets before 2011. History should teach Zambians, especially the youth, that it is easier for political parties to make these promises while in opposition in order to win votes, but the truth becomes the reality when a party forms government, when it is expected to make good on those promises and deliver the goods.

With regard to the issue at hand, namely the student loans and taking into consideration where the country is coming from and where we want to see ourselves 50 years from now, I wish to offer my perspective on the matter.

Some Zambians, for political expediency, suggest that Zambia is capable of reverting to provision of free education if we can dedicate a good portion of our taxes, coupled with borrowed money, towards financing the student bursaries scheme that provide free education. This reasoning is not only economically defective but also absurd.

By now, Zambians must know better; that free things are not sustainable as can be seen from the mealie-meal coupon system Kaunda had introduced to prevent food riots at a time Zambia witnessed queues for commodities such as sugar, mealie meal, cooking oil and detergents.

By any standards, the students’ loan scheme introduced by the PF administration to replace the bursaries scheme has been long overdue and, if well-managed, it would be sustainable because it is not only meant to benefit students from the University of Zambia and Copperbelt University but the entire spectrum of tertiary education.

The derision by both former and current students over the student loan payback announcement is coming from a general lack in the state to being genuine custodian of the national coin. Strangely, people reject the idea of paying back a student loan then get pissed off when you get loans. Zambia ought to borrow money or uses taxes to finance investments that have a potential to create an enabling environment for job creation to flourish, now or in future, than spend money on consumption.

On a lighter note, if I may ask former students like Hakainde Hichilema, Steven Katuka, Edgar Lungu and Nkandu Luo et al, all of whom graduated from UNZA, how many have even looked back and given back even a ngwee to sustain the repealed Bursaries Scheme generally? Those who demonise the progressive system of students loans because they had the privilege of getting free education must demonstrate by giving back to the universities and the country that gave them free education.

Where is the problem?

From where I stand, the Students’ Loan Scheme has been poorly administered and not meeting the spirit for which it was created, which is, to benefit all students of higher learning irrespective of which institution they belonged to. In disbursing these loans, merit rather than one’s institution should have been the focus by the Loans Board.

The decision by the loans board to initially provide these loans only to UNZA and CBU students hasn’t helped in breaking down the notion of “entitlement” by former students from UNZA and CBU who do not seem to appreciate that these loans should be given to any student of higher learning, on the basis of need and willingness to pay back.

Secondly, the outcry among former students against repayment of loans by everyone, so long one got the loan, has some merits which ought to be heard by government. The demand does not take into account the financial standing of beneficiaries at a time when youth unemployment is still a time-bomb with most graduates still roaming the Zambian streets. Sadly, even the much talked about higher education system in Zambia is one that has been tailored to make graduates see themselves as employees and not employers.

Again, I fully support government’s students’ loan system and the need for beneficiaries to pay back but that must be done at a time when government is sure it has created an enabling environment which allow graduates to sustain themselves – with or without any formal employment – and their families. For example, how many of us have asked why Chinese private companies – both overseas and in China – are successful and contribute a huge income to China’s national purse?

The lending interest rates in China are very low, lower than even the interest being demanded by the Loans Board from former students whom they have not empowered after university life. China and many other countries also inject money into private companies that get huge contracts in various sectors in Africa, not based on anything, but based on the contract itself. China, with its deficiencies in the human rights record (no country world-over has a perfect human rights record, after all), is still a good example for Africa to emulate.

In Zambia, instead of continuing with the policy of giving incentives, in form of tax breaks to foreign investors, we must begin to give these incentives to our own people. It’s sad that we are at the stage where, immediately a Zambian opens up a company, ZRA, NAPSA etc., will be knocking at their door without giving them relief by allowing the enterprise to grow until the stage where they can pay taxes. Is it also not strange that most companies run by Zambians are easily shut down as happened to the Post Newspaper while many multinational companies that are taking away Africa’s wealth to the Western world and China continue to operate with huge debts hanging on their shoulders?

What must government do with these students’ loans?

Firstly, government must also come up with a deliberate funding policy to graduates who wish to run companies and support these companies to grow. For example graduating medical students from UNZA, Cavendish, APEX University, could come together and be assisted to set-up private clinics and hospitals by way of provisions of land or getting financial investment partners. This will not only create employment but also help government to recover loans from people who are capable of paying back.

Secondly, government needs constructive dialogue with both former and current students over the many challenges that students face, including repayment modalities of these loans. The creation of the Ministry of Higher Education was done in good faith to address the needs of students of higher learning but this is the Ministry that is usually only heard when responding to students during times of students’ riots.

To a large extent, the Ministry of Higher Education is not in sync and not carrying along students in finding solutions to the problems facing students of higher education, even as she relentlessly continues to push her guild leadership system of governance among students’ bodies. The day Professor Luo leaves the Ministry of Higher Education, which I notice is the prayer of many students, will be the day when the so-called guild leadership system she is proposing will kiss goodbye because it is being developed without the support of existing students themselves and never understood by the students’ movement.

Finally, President Lungu ought to take interest in the cries of many former and current students and begin to address these concerns unless he does not care about the role students may play in the future of our country, especially on the political side. Since the Ministry of Higher Education has closed its doors to engagement with students’ bodies, through their umbrella body, it may be suicidal for the Head of State to also close his doors to engaging students.

If the President can meet “jerabos” over the black mountain, it must be his resolve to give direction to the issue of loan recoveries which is one of his duties as President – to give direction critical matters of national interest, and there in none more critical than the students who are mainly the youth, the very future of this country.

The president cannot afford to just pay lip service or palm it off to his Minister who, so far, appears to have no interest in meeting the students movement so that she can hear, first hand, what the student’s concerns are. She appears to prefer to keep her door firmly shut to the student movement or anyone who may have ideas different from her own, which is unfortunate.

Conclusion

It is my contention that the Students’ loan scheme is a better replacement of the bursaries scheme that was not sustainable but the decision to recover the funds should, for now, be suspended until constructive engagement takes place with all stakeholders associated with this loan system. There are a number of key issues to be addressed such as the high interest rate for this student loan, the modality of paying the loans which should take into account the financial standing of the beneficiaries.

The loan system ought to be extended to all universities and offered to students, not based on target university but based on the needs of any student of higher learning, whether the student is from Eden University or Evelyn Hone College. The failure to fully open the loan system but to limit it only to public universities, selected at the choice of those who make decisions, will not help to achieve the spirit in which the loan system was created.

(Disclaimer: The views in this article do not necessary represent or reflect the views of any institution or association the author may be affiliated to but represent that of the author)

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33 COMMENTS

  1. Ah, at last some thought provoking words. Rhetoric and contradiction.

    Bursaries and loans can never be or mean the same. Bursaries may not be converted just as Satan can never ever get converted and become saved.

    On the other hand, loans can be written off, forgiven as debts just as sin can be forgiven.

    It is cheating to metamorphose bursaries so that they become loans. You don’t lend money to someone who doesn’t ask for a loan or credit on loan terms.

    If it is pressure from global lending institutions that is privately urging government to do this, we are having a replay of the IMF directed privatisation of facilities that today we disapprove of to the extent that we are bringing back Zambia Airways.

    The government must stop pursuing loans that they did not lend…

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    • Students obtained loans from 2004 and they ought to pay back. But I guess the author is simply saying, hold the demand till things are okay for everyone. He ain’t against paying back.

      One thing I agree is UPND is benefiting from this discussion of loan write-off. I hear more students nodding UPND as better off than PF. So Lungu must remain worried, come 2021

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    • The students’ loan scheme is a very good policy and its good the PF are actualising it for the greater good of our education system but it’s the implementation which is wrong.

      Well implemented, the loan scheme will really change the land scape of higher education. The number of entrants into higher learning will significantly increase and the so many young people having challenges getting sponsorship will ultimately benefit.

      And they say education is the best equaliser, so the increase in entrants in higher will proportionately increase the chances of human development.

      Maybe this is where Higher Education and student bodies, led by ZANASU ought to engage each other on discussing way forward. Govt should listen more to students

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    • i dont remember getting a loan from gvt? i dnt even remember signing any were? uhhh whats with our gvt and money?

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  2. Excellent analysis by Isaac Mwanza. Govt needs to wake up and engage students and former students on this matter. What thing I also know is that its easier to be Professor in this country but that doesn’t not mean that one is competent to run a Ministry. Prof Luo is a failure in running that Ministry. She needs to be transferred to Gender

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    • non performing prof. shud jst go to ministry of Christianity, and help the frnd with prayer and fasting especially that October 18th is approaching

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  3. As one of those former students who got the loan, I agree to this well written article. We don’t have jobs and yet PF wants us to pay back the money. We not against pay back but the timing is poor for this demand. We better off voting for UPND in 2021 if govt pushes us into a corner on these loans.

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  4. New doctors must serve under experienced doctors for some time before opening a surgery. The experience is needed to protect the integrity of the profession. It is also needed to protect the patient. It is also needed to protect the young doctor. True, team spirit is missing among graduates. They are helpless and lonely.

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    • Well said Dr. Kasonde. The starting point should be unity among graduates but most importantly, we need to go the China route as well elaborated by the author. China is good example indeed. We need empower our own graduates. UNZA, CBU is producing potential employees and not employers

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  5. THOUGHT PROVOKING BUT TO A POINT! GOVT MUST FIRST CREATE ENVIRONMENT FOR US TO GET INTO GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT IN ORDER TO PAY BACK. HOW DO U ASK THE UNEMPLOYED AND THOSE STRUGGLING TO PAY BACK. 2021 IS AROUND THE CORNER

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  6. This kind of analysis is what’s missing in our country. We got people who complain without providing solutions but is guy provided solution

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  7. There nothing like free lunch in this world. The debate around the students loan board started when President Mwanawasa adopted his room at UNZA and there was a public outcry that he could not even adopt the entire dormitory but just a room. However, the beauracracy in Zambia takes too long to the extent that when the actual implementation a policy begins everyone would be lost to the extent that it looks like a new thing, yet it has been on the shelves for so many years.

    Well done Isaac. Done justice to this topic

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  8. THE PROBLEM I HAVE WITH ZAMBIAN GOVERNMENT OVER THIS LOAN SCHEME IS THAT THEY HAVE NOT LEARNT ANYTHING FROM THE FAILURES AND CHALLENGES ASSOCIATED WITH THE BURSARY SCHEME WHICH THE AUTHOR SHOULD HAVE DELVED INTO.

    THE BIGGEST FAILURE INCLUDED AMONG OTHERS WIDE SPREAD CORRUPTION IN THE AWARD OF BURSARIES. A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO BENEFITED FROM THE SCHEME WERE NOT EVEN SUPPOSE TO IN THE FIRST PLACE BENEFIT FROM THE SCHEME AS THEY WERE WELL TO DO AND POLITICALLY POWERFUL. THE BURSARIES WERE AWARDED TO CHILDREN AND RELATIVES TO MINISTERS, AND THE WELL TO DO FAMILIES AT THE EXPENSE OF THE POOR.

    QUESTION IS, HAVE WE DEALT WITH THESE MATTERS IN THE CURRENT LOAN SCHEME? NOT AT ALL! THERE IS TOO MUCH CORRUPTION EVEN IN THE AWARD OF LOANS. THE NAME HAS CHANGED FROM BURSARY TO LOAN BUT THE…

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    • At our time, the bursary was given to those with extra ordinary results i.e below 10 points. I should say it was better because no one with such results was left out up until 2004.

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  9. Yeah, change of name from Bursary Scheme to loan has not changed anything at all. Same beneficiaries, same corruption, same University students, same awarding procedures. This happens when people have no clue on what needs to be done. Replace Nkandu Luo, she is too obsessed with her Guild Leadership than dealing with real issue.

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  10. The problem now is that our schools are rotten. Few genuine passes but much of spoon feeding to lazy pupils whose parents can buy papers anytime. We have become corrupt. That aside, we are all so much into politics that we fail to solve even small issues that emanate from our own homes. Where is the lesson of charity begins at home? I cry for my country.

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  11. UPND is playing real politics with students loans just as Pf did with lower taxes. Beauty is that its attracting students support and that will be the game changer in 2021. UPND has capitalised on the animosity between Luo and students and that will take away most votes students give to Pf

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  12. balanced article that is issue based.I thank you Mr Mwanza for the fresh air on a pertinent and relevant issue.
    My concern is that students are so disorganised that the Prof is having a field day.

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  13. Truth be told, demands to begin recovering the funds is making the PF unpopular among students; Luo has already done lots of damage to weakening students movements and this new path taken, without proper engagement, will make PF and Lungu become so distant to students. Check last result at UNZA during mayoral by election.

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  14. Civil servants wanting to recover these loans least care about the politics at play, they will still be civil servants whether under Hichilema or Muliokela but biggest casualties of this abrupt move will be the PF as a party. Luo will run away and join Kambwili after 2021 or join Hichilema and undo this loan thing but damage will jave been done to PF. So go ahead and make us pay!!!

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  15. straight way point, it can only be an ***** who would get a loan but refuse to pay. ITS YOUR Parents job to send you to school, infact for tertiary , ITS you responsibility and not anyone’s and so not governments responsibility. We owe no apology , If you know you were not on bursary but on a Loan scheme, put stinking **** down and jsut start paying back. *****s like UPND just wants votes the same same PF Mafias did and look at where we are now? Sata left us in a messy and we are forcing Lungu to fix the nonsense Sata, guy scout and Alexander Chikwanda left behind.

    YOU WERE ON A LOAN SCHEME, JUST PAY WHETHER YOU HANG YOURSELF NO ONE CARES – YOU THOUGHT YOU CAN EAT TAXPAYERS MONEY FOR FREE???

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  16. Everyone who gets a loan ought to pay back. A loan is a loan. Just that govt must handle this with sensitive or they may lose power soon. Also what guarantee is there that govt will use money for intended purpose?

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  17. Students support UPND generally because Hakainde means well for their welfare. We shall engage students unions soon to assure them that we mean well

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  18. If the President can meet “jerabos” over the black mountain, it must be his resolve to give direction to the issue of loan recoveries.
    The president cannot afford to just pay lip service or palm it off to his Minister who, so far, appears to have no interest in meeting the students movement

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  19. Just pay back the money. When u went to line up and thought u voting for listening government, who forced you??? There u have, your listening govt!!!!

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  20. I would also suggest that the government partners with banks and let them manage this scheme and collect the loans when these students are in gainful employment. Otherwise, the biggest challenge has always been those benefiting are from well to do and connected families instead of the underprivileged with the bursary scheme. The loan scheme is the way to go, after all there is no free lunch, some of us had to pay for our tuitions from our hard work.The problem with Zambians is laziness, just work hard whether in gainful employment or not and pay back and let others benefit as well. Education is a privileged commodity not a gift like talent.

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  21. Fear of corruption must not kill the purpose for which the bursary scheme was created. Lest we forget, bursaries were merit driven, whereas loans are demand driven. The merit system awarded full tuition to outstanding students funded by government using taxpayers money to promote talent. The new talent was needed for innovation and for technological advancement following independence. The loan system also must continue. The abolitionist argument is too drastic. There is need to balance the two for the benefit of the individual and the nation at large.

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    • The Bursary scheme has been replaced by Scholarships but even these scholarships still stink of corruption. Mostly, they are awarded to their children and relatives. You got to know someone at Bursaries to get the scholarship. Question is why must scholarships only apply to UNZA and CBU students when we have many ubiversities in this country. The best is simply to run the loan system but we need to improve its management system.

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