Return of Student loans Welcome

biti_finance_missingOn November 25 2010, finance minister; Tendai Biti (Pictured) presented his income and expenditure statement and priority areas in the 2011 national budget.

Minister Biti observes that the budget of 2.7 billion dollars was a painstaking process to craft coming after receiving bids from ministries of 11.3 billion dollars. With such a small cake on offer for hungry ministries, the ministers prioritizing of education and health to get the largest slices is commendable consistent with his two previous budgets.

The education sector got 400 million dollars, the largest chunk of the budget and this comes as a welcome boost to a sector pummeled by a serious decline owing to governments withdrawal from the sector at the beginning of the decade. Minister Biti in his budget statement notes the chronic lack of accommodation at colleges, a dismal pass rate at ordinary level, poor infrastructure development and shortage of qualified personnel as just some of the woes facing the education sector from primary to tertiary.

In his raft of measures, the minister revives the student support loans and grants through a cash injection of 15 million dollars with financial institutions such as ZB Bank matching governments contribution. Noting the number of state institutions now in Zimbabwe, the amount can only be described as not enough if the support scheme is to benefit all Zimbabwean students who are eligible. Most of the students in state universities are unable to afford the punitive fees and government should intervene more strongly to ensure that Zimbabwe continues to be a hub of quality education. Strict measures to plug loopholes in the distribution and recovery of the loans should also be put in place if the scheme is to be a success.

The students Solidarity Trust has done extensive work and research around student accommodation and minister Biti allocated a total of 78.6 million dollars to state universities to build, renovate and reopen halls of residence. This was broken down into two, 48.6 million dollars for rehabilitation and face-lifting of current infrastructure and 30 million dollars for construction of new halls of residence in state institutions including teacher accommodation and water reticulation facilities.

In its latest edition the annual Inside the Pandoras Box, a publication of the SST chronicles the horrendous situation especially female students face due to the unavailability of accommodation at state universities. Strict tracking and monitoring of this money is required to ensure that university authorities not only account for the money but deliver on decent accommodation. Institutions such as the University of Zimbabwe that have received support in the past from UN agencies continue to be closed to the student community three years after they erroneously closed halls of residence on July 9 2007. Other institutions such as the National University of Science and Technology NUST and the Midlands State University MSU continue to take in more and more students despite the fact that no efforts have been made to bolster their accommodation levels.

For primary and secondary education, the minister noted that fewer than 20% O level candidates attained a pass in 2009 and only 50% of registered students in 2009 wrote examinations, a worrying situation considering the efforts made in trying to kick-start the education sector. The minister increased pupil grants and allocated resources to sanitation, infrastructure development and supervision of schools through the purchase of vehicles. Primary and secondary education form the foundation of a good tertiary system and resource allocation to this area is important for Zimbabwe to regain its place as a provider of quality education on the African continent.

Zimbabwes education system was fast turning into a commercial enterprise for elites and those with the resources to educate their children. Parents of rural students and the majority of Zimbabweans could not afford the high cost of education. The 2011 budget presents an opportunity to gradually reverse this worrying trend and return quality education to the majority. Suffice to say that the allocations of the cake slices are not adequate but indicate governments intention to ensure that education is not privatized. More therefore needs to be done in the stewardship of these resources to ensure that maximum value obtains out of the allocated resources.

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