Don’t make future students suffer

Editorial, Normal

MORE than 7,000 students were offered assistance to the tune of K6.6 million between the years 2000 and 2007 under the Tertiary Education Study Assistance Scheme (Tesas).
Now the Office of Higher Education (OHE), which administers the loans, wants the recipients to pay back their loans but is faced with the bigger problem of trying to locate them.
Last week, the OHE listed the names of 3,947 recipients in newspaper advertisements while appealing for “information on where these people are working at the moment”.
Only one recipient, a woman, repaid her loan in 2004 while another 16 have inquired on how to repay since the advertisements were published.
Tesas was suspended last year, we gather, pending repayment of the K6.6 million.
Tesas was introduced in 2000 following repeated student demonstrations over the previous blanket national scholarship programme. The Government withdrew that Natschol and introduced the Tesas.
Under Tesas, the State extended loans of between K100 and K2,200 to students who performed extremely well academically but could not afford tuition fees.
Now, future students wanting assistance from the State will have to go without because those who have gone before them have been dishonest in not repaying the school fee loans they have taken under the system.
We fail to understand why innocent future tertiary students must be made to suffer because of the ineptitude of the Office of Higher Education and previous beneficiaries of Tesas.
The announcement by OHE director-general Dr William Tagis last week that Tesas has been suspended can only result in more problems than good.
The OHE should have envisaged this problem.
We discover now that the OHE “thought the Internal Revenue Commission (IRC) would help by establishing some kind of scheme like graduate tax scheme but this did not eventuate”.
This is rubbish. It is a poor excuse for not putting in place a proper system to manage millions of kina of State money.
Since Tesas was a new policy to replace the National Scholarship system, surely the most obvious questions to have asked at discussion stage were: Do we offer a scholarship to top performing students with no obligation to repay or do we offer assistance in the form of loans? If we do offer loans, how do we keep track of the thousands of students attending so many universities and colleges throughout the country in order to recoup the loans?
If the IRC was to have assisted, it would have meant an agreement or a memorandum of understanding between the OHE and IRC with the need for some of the money collected to be used to recruit IRC staff to collect the money. Collecting money from people is a huge task and the IRC has its hands full trying to collect taxes from individuals and corporations.
To have “thought” that “some kind of scheme” would be established by IRC is most irresponsible, particularly when dealing with millions of State funds and expended on an area as important as education.
Now we see much-needed assistance to needy students dry up because the OHE just simply had not planned for it and waited five good years before making a move. This is just not good enough. Schools are about to end for the 2009 year and many thousands of students around the country who have performed well academically will be seeking State assistance. This must not be denied them because of some administrative and managerial ineptitude.
Tesas should be reinstated immediately for students to apply for the 2010 school year. The recovery action can take its own course as well.
Nothing will be gained by making future students suffer for the mistakes of those who have gone before. Indeed, it will have the effect of keeping very many people out of school because they just cannot afford the fees.
Yes, in an ideal world we would expect honesty to prevail and young men and women would, as soon as they have completed college and are gainfully employed, contact OHE to begin repaying their dues.
But this is not an ideal world. Times are tough and a young person starting out in employment would normally be more interested in the immediate bills rather than repaying school fee loans.
And then there is that nagging thought in every impressionable mind that perhaps the State does have an obligation to provide education free of charge.