Justus Balyanyuka’s dreams of higher education, fueled by a coveted government scholarship to study at Uganda Cooperative College in Tororo, quickly soured. What seemed like an opportunity on the surface turned into a financial nightmare, leaving him questioning the true essence of government-sponsored education.
Balyanyuka, from a modest Rukungiri district family, earned a government Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) scholarship this year due to academic excellence. He expected this scholarship, like those for university students, to alleviate his financial burden.
However, reality hit hard. According to his admission letter, Balyanyuka must pay a “functional fee” of Shillings 743,000 before starting his studies. The fine print adds, “No refund will be made to a student who withdraws from the program after two weeks from the date of opening the semester.”
In essence, students must pay or lose their spots. Balyanyuka’s excitement turned to disappointment when confronted with this financial obstacle. Beyond the functional fees, a laundry list of additional requirements awaits.
Musa Musoke, a concerned parent whose child also secured a TVET scholarship, is equally dismayed. He questions the justification for paying nearly 800,000 Shillings as functional fees for a diploma in accounting in Tororo when the same course costs less in Kampala.
Mark Kalanzi, principal of Hoima School of Nursing and Midwifery, joins the chorus of discontent. He questions whether the term “TVET scholarship” accurately reflects the level of support.
“Government assistance consistently falls short. In universities, the government covers students’ expenses for food, accommodation, full tuition, and other benefits. Unfortunately, this level of support is not extended here. It’s no wonder parents feel this doesn’t truly resemble a scholarship,” Kalanzi argues.
Isaac Biryomumaisho, guild president of the Butabika School of Psychiatric Nursing, echoes these concerns. He points out that last year, ten students didn’t attend because parents were discouraged by the high fees and charges.
“This should have a different name; it shouldn’t be called a scholarship. The tuition fees are exorbitant, and some students drop out, while parents take loans or sell assets to fund their child’s education,” says Biryomumaisho.
Officials from the Ministry of Education and TVET departments declined to respond to these issues. John Chrysostom Muyingo, the State Minister for higher education, was also unable to explain the current TVET scholarship structure but mentioned ongoing efforts to regulate fees and charges.
TVET education, once stigmatized, is gaining popularity. However, financial constraints hinder many students’ aspirations, as TVET courses tend to be costly.
The NRM government pledged universal TVET education in its 2020 manifesto, ensuring that qualified Ugandans could enroll without tuition fees. Yet, this promise remains unfulfilled, raising doubts about these scholarships’ true nature.
Through the Joint Admissions Board, the government sponsors 6,000 students for TVET diplomas. This year, more scholarships were introduced, aiming for accessible education, especially for girls and persons with disabilities.
Behind the glossy TVET scholarship facade lies a hidden truth: the burden of fees threatening dreams. As students and parents demand transparency and equity, the future of TVET education in Uganda remains uncertain. Will it genuinely become an opportunity or remain a scholarship in disguise?