It appears that the war between the Ministry of Education and Skills Development on one hand and beneficiaries of government scholarship programme on the other will not come to an end any time soon.
Even after many years since the ministry published names of defaulters, there are concerns that loan repayments remain an issue of concern.
The exercise to publish the names was controversial from the beginning because it named and shamed big shots in government and corporate Botswana who had benefited from state’s tertiary funding.
However, publishing the names, though questionable, was the right of a financier, just like the commercial banks would do.
However, that did not scare thousands of beneficiaries who still refuse to pay government money that runs into millions of Pula now, over P300 million to be exact.
Many critics say the way the Ministry of Education is attempting to recover its debt is questionable.
At one point the ministry went for broke using a scare tactic, contemplating to engage the services of notorious debt collectors, although the idea did not go through.
This week, there were developments at the ministry with its new political head, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, revealing that they want to limit intake at tertiary institutions.
It is appreciated that the new broom at the ministry wants to take responsibility, at a government organ that made news in the past two years than any other.
Whether or not education should be free is a topic for debate another day. Botswana is one of the few countries in the region that still sponsor students for tertiary education, in a continent where eligible students have to slug it out to win a bursary.
However, what is encouraging by this week’s revelation by the ministry is an admission that it finds itself in this situation because it did not keep proper records of students.
It took the ministry and government a long time to acknowledge that paperless society is here.
It is shocking that the ministry did not adopt technology at an early stage to keep student data in a systematic format.
This is made worse by the news that even when some beneficiaries attempted to pay they were turned back because there were no records of them to start with.
We believe that the ministry will live by its word that records for students sponsored this year will be kept.
The problem of lack of recovery of government’s funds comes at a time when government is faced with critical shortage of funds as a result of economic slowdown.
The situation is made worse by the booming tertiary education industry, that is doing less to attract students from the region and private students, but too reliant on government sponsored students.
As it stands, because there are no national service programmes as it used to be with Tirelo Sechaba (TS), everyone finishing high school has to be absorbed into the tertiary education.
This is an expectation that will for many years to come politically haunt government.
It is however encouraging that a few months ago, consultants–Evaluation Services Team-Botswana (BEST) recommended a new direction in the areas of critical human resource for the economy and the award of government sponsorships and recovery of student loans.
BEST said in the report that there should be a law governing the tertiary loan scheme for eligible students and also recommended other means of maximising opportunities for recovery of loans, such as sharing information about beneficiaries with other government departments like those responsible for income tax in order to facilitate tracking of defaulters.
This point is buttressed, admittedly, by Venson-Moitoi when she said that days of sending students to universities of their choice are coming to an end.
Although the current tertiary explosion, where government has been sending students to questionable institutions, has created expectations on Form Five leavers, the minister’s admission will avoid producing more graduates than the market can absorb.
There has been a mismatch between what the universities can produce and what the industry needed, thus cheapening Botswana’s tertiary education system.
Even the once mighty University of Botswana (UB) now is competing with less prestigious “universities” for government sponsorship thus lessoning the value of our education system.