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Low female participation raises concern as 1,196 get study loans

Students in a discussion

Students in a discussion

With a budget of Shs 5.2bn, the Higher Education Students’ Financing Board (HESFB) awarded study loans to 1,196 needy but brilliant students to pursue diploma and undergraduate courses this academic year 2023/24 last week. This is the 10th cohort of beneficiaries since its inception in 2014, writes YUDAYA NANGONZI.

While the overall number of applicants remains robust, the board is concerned about the low number of female students applying to pursue science-based courses. This trend, if not unchecked, could exacerbate gender disparities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

Speaking during the release of the list of beneficiaries at the Uganda Media Center, the state minister for Higher Education, Dr John Muyingo, encouraged females to apply as they stand a high chance of being supported.  

“Girls are not friendly with science subjects but let us have more offering science combinations so that when the board calls for applicants, we have many of them on the beneficiary list,” Muyingo said. “We may want to support more girls but how shall we reach out to them when they don’t apply or offer sciences in schools.”

During this Academic Year 2023/2024, the board received 1,921 loan applications, of which 640 were rejected for falling outside the eligibility criteria. Of the 1,281 eligible applications, 964 (75.25%) were male and 317 (24.75%) female applicants.

The board selected 1,196 beneficiaries, representing 879 male and 317 female. Of these, 11 students are Persons with Disabilities. The award of loans to 1,921 students brings the total number of beneficiaries to 14,601 in a decade. Muyingo observed that the demand for student loans has surpassed the available resources. While initially, applicants averaged 2,000, the demand has grown to more than 4,000 annually.

“The ministry will lobby for increased funding for the board so that a target of 3,000 learners are supported each year in line with the current board’s approved strategic plan,” Muyingo said.   

For nine years, study loans have been awarded between July and September. In the Academic Year 2023/2024, the HESFB chairperson, Dr Charles Wana-Etyem, said there was a delay occasioned by late approval of the budget.

Parliament approved the supplementary budget of Shs 13.958bn in December 2023 thus calling for applications in March 2024. The funds will cover domestic arrears and new students.

“This funding is an intervention to needy students who could have joined last year but missed out the opportunity, or who are studying in the first year but struggling to pursue their academics due to tuition constraints,” Wana-Etyem said.

He added that the board will continue to run affirmative action to increase the number of girls benefitting from the scheme, including being offered seven points in the Means Test Assessment. To ease the recovery of the loans, the HESFB executive director, Michael Wanyama, noted that the board commenced registering the student loans on the Credit Reference Bureau (CRB).

The board will establish a credit history with beneficiaries and foster financial accountability since loanees must obtain a certificate of compliance from the board before acquiring loans from other lending institutions.

“We have also signed a partnership with the Federation of Uganda Employers. As we advance, all employers must write to the board before employing anybody to trace the loanees for repayment,” Wanyama said.

DISTRICT PERFORMANCE

At least 79 districts had all their applicants considered for loans. Districts such as Amudat, Madi-okollo, Nakapiripirit, Napak, and Omoro which normally post no applicants had successful beneficiaries. However, the board received no applications in Buvuma, Kaabong, Kapelebyong, Kiryandongo, and Lyantonde.

To date, there are 23 public and private chartered universities and 36 Other Tertiary Institutions participating in the scheme. Kampala International University led with the highest number of beneficiaries at 285.

It is followed by Kabale University with 114, Mbarara University of Science and Technology (85), Busitema University (77), and Kyambogo University (74). Most beneficiaries offer Health Science programmes while some pursue Tourism programmes on affirmative action. Student loans cover tuition fees, functional fees, and Aids and Appliances for persons with disabilities.

nangonzi@observer.ug

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