Scores of needy students from public universities face uncertain future after the Higher Education Students Loans and Grants Board (HESLGB) dropped them from a list of beneficiaries, despite benefiting from the same previous years, Nation on Sunday has established.
The Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) has since faulted the selection criteria, describing it as discriminatory and not worth of trusting.
The loans board, however, has stood by its decision, saying the students in question were wrong beneficiaries and that resource constraints make it impossible to benefit all eligible applicants.
Our findings show that the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) city campus has been hit hard with 95 students, who once benefitted from the loan facility, being dropped from the list.
But the Loans and Grant Board chief executive officer, Chris Chisoni, said the Luanar city campus students are not supposed to benefit from the loan facility but generic students at the main Bunda campus.
“The city campus students are economic fee paying students and they are admitted to City campus on a prior understanding and agreement that they are capable of paying tuition fee at economic fee level which is higher than generic students fees. How such students, upon agreeing to take up studentship at an economic fee paying value, become needy is surprising and simply put, the Loans Board does not support students admitted into economic fee paying programmes in all universities,” said Chisoni.
But our findings show that many students from the city campus have been beneficiaries of the loan since 2015.
While some have been dropped in the current academic year, some have managed to benefit once again.
In an interview, some students wondered why they have been left out when they remain needy just as they were when they first benefitted from the loan.
“I am needy and I remain needy. I do not have both parents neither do I have anyone capable of paying my school fees. That’s why I applied for a loan and I was relieved that my request was granted. I am now confused that I nearly missed examinations because I was asked to withdraw from college for failure to pay school fees,” explained one student who refused to be named purported evidence of his ‘needy status’, including death certificates of both parents and a letter from the district social welfare office.
“We know when we are applying that there is a condition that we will be self-sponsored students, but we do so out of desperation. You cannot stop to apply because you do not have fees; you secure a place first and start looking for sponsorship. I am also needy that is how I qualified in the first place. I applied, but missed a chance to go to Luanar main campus despite scoring 9 points; hence, the city campus became my next option,” added another student who also opted for anonymity.
Nation on Sunday also encountered some students from the same campus who have benefited from the loan after delivering the application forms on their own and not through the university as is traditionally the case.
Asked how they admitted students from city campus who are not supposed to benefit from the loan, Chisoni blamed poor screening process as the facility
In a telephone interview, Luanar Vice-Chancellor Professor George Kanyama Phiri said they are aware of the students’ concerns and are in touch with the Loans Board to solve the issue.
Kanyama Phiri did not agree that city campus students do not qualify for the loans, saying the criteria emphasises on the students’ ability to pay.
According to President of Students Union at Mzuzu University, Limbani Gama, at least 1 200 deserving students have been left out.
“We are currently negotiating with the Loans Board to have these students helped because we know for sure they are needy. And we also have hundreds of students who only get partial funding like 50 percent of tuition yet they are need more than that; they have to find accommodation and [pay] the remainder of the fees,” said Gama.
In an e-mail response, Chisoni admitted that sometimes deserving students are left out due to resource constraints. He said annually the board receives 12 000 to 15 000 applications with over 77 perecent of the applicants being successful.
But Csec executive director Benedicto Kondowe faulted the loan system, saying it still needs some close monitoring as it remains prone to abuse.
According to HESLGB website, a needy student must be one from a poor family earning national minimum wage or below, an orphan, and a person with disability or from parents with disabilities who are poor.