This past week, Finance Minister Peggy Serame made history as Botswana’s first female finance minister to deliver a budget speech.
While the event may go down in our country’s history books as a first, it appears to have been a letdown to tertiary students, particularly The Joint Tertiary Student Representative Council who have demanded an increase in the tertiary students’ living allowance.
At the start of this year, the Joint Tertiary Student Representative Council which is built up of SRC’s from 18 tertiary schools demanded a 35% increase in living allowance on behalf of tertiary students. In a petition apparently submitted to the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, the Council called for a living allowance increment to P2200 for off campus students and P1700 for on campus students.
However, as Serame delivered her maiden speech she made no mention of an increment in students’ living allowance. The speech however made a suggestion of cost-sharing between parents and government to reduce government expenditure on tertiary education. She said: “Government also spends large amounts on tuition fees and maintenance allowances for students in tertiary education. This is an area of possible cost-sharing with parents, where they have the ability to pay. In line with the practice and commitments of the BDP Government, extensive consultations will take place before any major changes are introduced.”
Limkokwing University SRC President Wedu Tafa, expressed his disappointment at government’s negligence of tertiary students’ welfare during an interview with this publication.
Tafa said: “The government continues to ignore the struggle of tertiary students. I for one am failing to understand how allowance is not being adjusted based off economic adjustments which have been put in plan by the same government.”
The council has learnt through various interactions with ministers and other authoritative bodies, that there isn’t any money to cater for living allowances, so says Tafa.
Acknowledging this possibility, he went on to suggest other measures that government could take up in order to relieve students of some of the economic burden.
“I would say based on what we have been told by ministers and authorities, since there is no money to cater for living allowances, why doesn’t the government come up with a way of reducing the weight off students’ shoulders by simply having a special agreement with the Ministry of Transport and Communications to have special fares for students? Why can’t government have a special agreement with supermarkets so that students can get their necessities at a low price?” Tafa said.
Tafa opines that to date the council has not gotten a response to address these demands. He however went on to say the silence speaks volumes and they perceive it to be a response by the government. He said, “We haven’t gotten the feedback yet; however, the loudest feedback is silence from the government.”
In his words Tafa pointed out that if the government persists in their silence, the students are ‘going shopping at Main Mall’. “We are taking the issue to the streets because it’s the students who are in deep poverty.” Tafa went on to express his disfavor towards government’s cost-sharing, arguing that most Batswana parents would not be able to cover tertiary education fees.
The budget speech highlighted that inflation reached 8.7 percent in December 2021, the highest inflation rate in a decade. However, tertiary students’ living allowance was last reviewed in July 2018 when it was increased to P1620 from P1420 for off campus students. The allowance has been stagnant for the past three years despite changes in the country’s economic climate and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Joint Tertiary Student Representative Council has continuously argued that allowance is not enough given escalating rental costs as well as the general high cost of living. With government’s silence to these demands, it seems that what the council describes as the ‘biggest demonstration from all participating tertiary institutions’ is looming.