THE Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection has urged the government to cut down on unnecessary spending in other areas such as foreign travel of government officials and move resources to education instead.
JCTR stated that it also decries the abrupt and unilateral manner in which the decision to abolish meal allowances for students at University of Zambia and Copperbelt University was made.
On February 6, the Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo announced that “meal allowances for all public universities would be abolished and that students on the bursary scheme would only receive tuition fee, accommodation fees, book allowance and project expenses.
She said the move was taken to scale up resources for the loan scheme to five other public universities namely; Kapasa Makasa, Mulungushi, Kwame Nkuruma, Chalimbana and Palabana Universities.
This measure however, will only affect students who are joining UNZA and CBU this academic year.
JCTR stated that for many years, the University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University had benefited from government education support scheme through the bursaries committee.
It stated that the Bursaries Committee was established through a statutory instrument, No. 182 of the 1973 Education Act of the Laws of Zambia.
JCTR stated that Bursaries Committee administers bursaries, scholarships, student loans and fellowships for tertiary education in Zambia and abroad.
It stated that the scheme in Zambia was introduced for the simple reasons that education should be a right and that every Zambian, especially the most vulnerable must be able to access it at a subsidized cost.
“With the high cost of education, bursaries provide an opportunity for many people to earn an education. Without assistance from an outside source, students may have trouble paying for the degree they need in order to enter the workforce and become a contributing member of society,” it stated. “The fact that student bursaries have been turned into loans to students negates the need to abolish meal allowances as they are subject to recovery. What government needs to do is to enhance recovery of student loans/bursaries in order to allow for scaling up of bursaries and increase the scheme beneficiaries.”
It stated that while JCTR agrees to the need to scale up bursaries to other public universities, it objects to abolishing meal allowances, which essentially was denying some students an opportunity to receive tertiary education.
JCTR stated that this move was not progressive because it promotes inequality in society as students from poor families are not allowed to receive tertiary education, which is key to addressing the malaise of inequality.
It stated that the removal of meal allowances might deprive students of affording the basic necessities and might infringe on their right to a dignified life.
JCTR stated that provision and enhancing access to education was an investment and not a cost.
“This has been proved by countries like Japan and China that have educated their citizenry into prosperity,” according to JCTR.
It stated education improves the economy as educated people are more productive and less dependent on provision of public goods.
JCTR urged the government to improve the bursary management system so that only deserving and vulnerable students were the ones to benefit from the loan scheme.
“As a country, we should be talking about increasing meal allowances for our students to enable them meet the high cost of living. Further, JCTR urges the government to cut down on unnecessary spending in other areas such as foreign travel of government officials and move those resources to education instead. JCTR also decries the abrupt and unilateral manner in which the decision to abolish meal allowances was made. We therefore call for a transparent and consultative process to precede such announcements,” stated JCTR.