Some hard lessons for students after cancellation of bursary for many

With the termination of government bursaries from all but the most needy students at Rwanda’s tertiary institutions since the beginning of this year the effects are being felt in a number of adverse ways, the most common being reported, or alleged incidences of increased hunger, decreased class time due to students getting out of campus more frequently to forage for menial jobs outside, and so on. Up to 75.4 percent of beneficiaries of the Student Financing Agency for Rwanda (SFAR) have been cut off from the bursary and have to fend for themselves.

Explaining the government decision on the BBC, President Kagame said the money saved thus will be put to better use and will benefit a wider student body in many more ways than dis¬bursing the 25,000 francs per month per student as has been the case. One way this money will be better used, says the President, is to for instance buy more and better equipment for university laboratories which will lead to better students in sciences dis-ciplines. The Rwanda Focus’s student reporter at The National University Butare, Eric Didier Karinganire put together a re¬port on the situation there.

By the end of last year when the government decision was imple¬mented to do away with bursaries for a bigger percentage of the stu¬dents, leaving only those deemed to be the poorest one or two inci¬dents were reported about students fainting from hunger.

Jean de Dieu Sindabimenya, a NUR student in Economics, is one of the students who say they now cannot count on eating a proper meal a day. He says that his life has become much harder. He cannot afford life at the university anymore.

“Since I had no means to afford life at the university, I came about two months late for studies and I managed to survive by taking lunch of Frw 200 once a day,” Sindabimenya told this newspaper. “When my classmates realized that I was suffering from extreme hunger they fundraised and paid for me a meal card for one month.”
But things are even worse. Sindabimenya lacks accommodation and depends on schoolmates to get somewhere to spend the night. It is also the same way he gets other needs in his daily life on campus. He is like a beggar now.

Etienne Habanabakize enrolled in the Faculty of Arts, Media and Social Sciences. He too has faced serious challenges ever since his bursary was cancelled. He moreover lost his bursary even after bee¬ing categorized as poor by the national ubudehe program, which is the classification on which SFAR bases on to identify beneficiaries.

He moved far from campus and found poorly paying part time work in Kayonza District in Eastern Province, about 200 km away. That made it very difficult for him to regularly follow his studies.
“I go back to campus like once in two weeks to see if there might be some assignments and return to my part time job during working days,” Habanabakize says.
National University of Rwan¬da Students Union (NURSU) members confirm that many NUR students face the same situations described here.

Gaspard Karinganire who is in charge of social affairs in NURSU says that too many stu¬dents unable to cope under the new circumstances have been coming to the union looking for help.
“There was a case when a very broke student fell down and fainted and when he was taken to the dispensary they could find no illness with him but when they gave him some food he was alright, then we realized that he had gone a few days without eat¬ing!” said Karinganire.

Others students resort to having lunch outside campus in very cheap eateries. One may have a meal there for as little as 200 francs in these eater¬ies christened “kill me quick” where they pay very little mon¬ey, he adds, in some restau¬rants-known as “kill me quick” because the hygiene there is so poor it looks like one may con¬tract a dangerous disease from the food.

“We’ve seen many cases of students suffering from illnesses related to poor hygiene like diar¬rhea and the like, but we do not exactly know where they eat, whether in NUR restaurants or outside the campus,” said Dr. Martin Karemera, the director of the Dispensary.

Medard Runyange the dean of students at NUR says many stu¬dents have been asking for help to find for them work inside or outside campus which may mean some students are not at¬tending courses.
According to some NUR offi¬cials poor attendance in class is becoming a real problem. “So¬cial and economical problems are major factors that are be¬hind poor attendance in class,” Herman Musahara the acting Vice Rector for Academics said in a recent meeting with students.

Now it’s worrying that the ir¬regular attendance in class may lead to more students dropping out altogether. Other students are resorting to applying for vol¬untary suspensions, which may means a student going back after two years. 19 students are known to have taken this option. The registry for academics also says over 120 students on government scholarship who were expected to register for this academic year never did.
Education Minister Charles Muligande acknowledges there might have been some errors in the process of identifying the most needy students. He says government will try to assist those appearing to be among the need but who may have been classified otherwise. But the minister is uncompromising about the merits of people pay¬ing their own way through uni¬versity.

“We are not the first to remove it (bursary); in fact we are among the last to do so!” said Muligan¬de stressing that those countries where they issue no bursaries have had no problems produc¬ing successful students. “So we will succeed too,” he said.

Other than cancellation of the bursary, information that was recently confirmed by the Edu¬cation Minister is that the Frw 100,000 fee to assist last year stu¬dents in their research and the writing of their memoires too has been cancelled.

Béatha Akimpaye, a last year student in Agronomy does not see how she will cope with can-cellation of the memoire fee.

“If I have to travel at least seven times going to the field during my research this time I will try to reduce it to two trips which will lead to poor quality research,” she said.
But Muligande’s message to the students is steadfast: “learn to be self-reliant”, he tells them.
The ministry will not provide everything for students; instead they should take their own responsibilities as others do. “They have to find those funds on their own. They have to do as their fellows studying in ULK, INATEK, the Adventist Univer¬sity of Central Africa and others do,” he says.

By Eric Didier Karinganire

This article was initially published in The Rwanda Focus: