World News

The uncertainty of university loans in Sierra Leone

21 March 2018 at 16:42 | 6196 views

By Chrissy Jones, United Kingdom

A source within Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) revealed to the press that the 39-60% tuition fees currently paid by the government to subsidy amounts paid by university students, will now be shelved. The source, who spoke to the Concord Times, noted that the subsidy fees would be remitted to commercial banks, which in turn would demand payment once students had finished their studies and secured employment. The MEST source added that the banks themselves would be in charge of setting requirements for loans, and repayment terms are as yet to be determined. The news is worrisome for students as well as for Sierra Leone, since education is key to economic prosperity.

The purpose of subsidies

In 2012, the Sierra Leone government decided to pay 39-60% of fees as a subsidy, following the University of Sierra Leone’s decision to increase tuition for various courses. To this day, fears continue that exorbitant fees are causing students to drop out.As noted by Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya of The Standard Times Press Newspaper,

“The rapid increase in tuition fees and other charges in the University of Sierra Leone may increase the rate of girl dropouts… if the Government of Sierra Leone does not remedy the situation to ensure education.”

There are various added costs when it comes to obtaining a university degree that often lie beyond the scope of average citizens in Sierra Leone.. For instance, many colleges offer orientation programmes with costs exceeding Le220,000. Tuition fees, meanwhile, can cost over Le3M (three million Leones), plus additional/miscellaneous charges for around Le750,000. One student told Kindama Dumbuya, “I am going for classes now but with no hope of continuing because since day one of lectures, we are warned to pay our tuition fees before the day of exams or we will not be allowed to sit to any exam. I want to go to school but I will stop attending when it’s time for exams at IPAM in order to avoid embarrassment from the college authorities.”

What would new loans mean for Sierra Leone students?

Sierra Leone should learn from other countries in which student loans are considered a standard way to pay for education. Currently, both the UK and the US are heavily burdened by student debt, with over 100 billion and $1.48 trillion outstanding, respectively. Students should undertake careful comparisons of interest rates and features offered by private student loans as well as public ones, while banks should focus on payment methods which are equitable to borrowers, without resulting in the huge burden of debt currently experienced by countries abroad.

Australia, for instance, is making efforts to lower their $15 billion debt by lowering the salary threshold above which students have to start paying their loans. Up until now, those earning more than around $55,000AUD have to dedicate around 4 to 5% of their annual income to loan repayment, but this amount will be reduced by over $10,000.

The future of university education in Sierra Leone is still open, with sources indicating that subsidies may be replaced by private loans. Students should prepare for the possible change in law by looking carefully at conditions offered by different banks, and even considering scholarships to study abroad. Universities in the UK, USA, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, Uganda and many other countries are proving to be an interesting option for students wishing to avoid debt while obtaining high-standard tertiary qualifications.

Editor’s Note: Chrissy will be writing on financial issues for the Patriotic Vanguard.