Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Serame expresses no confidence in MoTE’s ability to administer sponsorship funds

For the first time in decades, the ministry of education will no longer disburse sponsorship money for tertiary education students. Resultantly, the notorious fly-by-night university may suffer unprecedented cash flow problems and be forced to shut down.

In a shock announcement to parliament last Wednesday, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Peggy Serame, said that her ministry will be spearheading a number of reform measures to tertiary education financing in order to ensure its future sustainability.

“These measures will include the immediate transfer of the Tertiary Education Financing vote under the Department of Tertiary Education Financing at the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development,” said Serame when tabling a request for P2.49 billion from the development budget to finance a supplementary budget.

She added that MFED “will undertake an audit on the Tertiary Education Financing activities, including in-depth examination of management of the tertiary education financing, awarding of sponsorships, reasonability of tuition fee levels charged by all tertiary institutions, allocation of students to sundry tertiary institutions, payment of tuition and allowances.”

If nothing else, these unprecedented steps show that the disbursement of sponsorship is finally being placed under a forensic lens and that MoTE can no longer be trusted with managing DTEF affairs. That the transfer of the Tertiary Education Financing vote to MFED is happening “immediately” says a lot.

During the administration of President Festus Mogae, there emerged the private university which competed with public universities for students but not in terms of educational quality. At its most intense, this competition forced the University of Botswana to lay off some staff members as its student numbers steadily shrunk. The managers of some private universities were said to be a bit too close to some civil servants in the education system. The result was a two-way unofficial reward system that negatively affected the quality of education while enabling certain individuals to live way beyond their pay grade. It has been specifically alleged that some private universities were allocated way more students than they deserved and could competently handle. While they claimed their full payment from DTEF – in some cases overcharging it, some of those universities compromised educational quality by spending the least amount of money on instruction.

Those familiar with these and other allegations would be able to make sense of Serame’s plan to undertake an audit on the Tertiary Education Financing activities, including in-depth examination of management of the tertiary education financing, awarding of sponsorships, reasonability of tuition fee levels charged by all tertiary institutions, allocation of students to sundry tertiary institutions. The business model of the fly-by-night university is a quite simple one: spend the least amount of money while wringing out the last thebe from the government. Rigorous enforcement of measures such as proposed by the minister would make this model untenable and some universities would certainly be forced to close down.

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