Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research Science and Technology is reforming its tertiary education funding, with new draft policy placing emphasis on funding students who pursue technical and vocational training.
Minister of Tertiary Education, Research and Technology Dr Alfred Madigele has this week, in an exclusive interview revealed that the current funding model, the Grant Loan Scheme which was introduced in 1995 is going under review. “The 1995 Grant Loan Scheme was mainly catering for government jobs. It was responding to white-collar jobs only. It was looking at teaching carers and social sciences programmes, which are essentially white-collar jobs,” said Dr Madigele.
“Those sectors which were catered for are now saturated such that there are fewer and fewer vacancies in those sectors. Essentially, we need to re-invent the Grant Loach Scheme for tertiary education financing to respond [to today’s needs].” Dr Madigele, who is also legislator for Molapowabojang-Mmathethe constituency said currently the government is reviewing the tertiary education financing policy to respond to the challenges the country faces now.
“There are a lot of educated people with Diplomas, Degrees, Masters or even PhDs but they do not have jobs. It does not necessarily mean there are no jobs in Botswana. It means those particular sectors are saturated,” observed Dr Madigele. He said, sectors such as tourism, mining, construction present a wide range of opportunities for other careers but the sectors are dominated by foreign nationals. Dr Madigele is of the view that the country has not done enough to produce enough artisans, hence the jobs are taken by people from outside.
“If you walk around town, or go to CBD [Central Business District] you would find that most of construction employees, plumbers and others are done by our neighbours from Zimbabwe, Chinese and other foreign nationals. These are jobs which actually should be going to Batswana,” he stated.
The former Assistant Minister of Health noted that in the review that his ministry is undertaking, they are taking into consideration these careers which are in demand, by offering variety of options for pursuing them, including up-skilling citizens as well are re-tolling them to be able to deliver the desired results. “Within the draft policy, we want to put more emphasis on the TVET (Technical and Vocational Education Training) sector which we believe it will help us to reduce unemployment,” he said.
A report released by Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) in 2016 titled “Tertiary Education at a Glance” indicated that enrolment by government technical colleges is very low and is not rising in any significant way. “This means that Technician level training in Botswana has a very low share of tertiary enrolments. Given that a growing economy needs all kinds of technicians in the critical skill areas like Electrical/Electronics, Construction/Building, computer engineering, Instrumentation and mechanical engineering this trend is worrying,” reads the report.
“The technical colleges seem to have good infrastructure that is comparable to others. So this trend shows us anecdotally that there may well be low utilisation of existing resources in the technical Colleges.” The report further indicates that data from government technical colleges shows an inconsistent and erratic trend over the years with some courses done one year and then seemingly abandoned the next enrolment.
“It would appear that technician level training across the colleges could benefit from a better coordination and policy guidance given that the demand for training places is very high nevertheless.” In a recent interview with WeekendPost, Minister of Basic Education Dr Unity Dow contended that part of the problem regarding technical colleges’ enrolment was the perception formed on them. She is said there is a need to brand them so that they become attractive.
FUTURE OF TERTIARY EDUCATION FUNDING
In 2016, Madigele told the Tertiary Education Pitso organised by the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) that Botswana, like many other countries faced the challenge of tertiary education financing occasioned in part by what he called “massification”: a massive increase in tertiary education enrolment; ever increasing costs; equally important competing priorities and dwindling financial resources.
The minister indicated that although government had in recent years talked about cost sharing at tertiary education, it is not a decision his ministry has taken yet. Madigele said currently the government avails sponsorship to 10 000 students on average out of a possible 25 000 who graduate from Botswana General Certificate for Secondary Education (BGCSE). He said, because government wants to increase access to tertiary education, it means other measures have to be put in place to make it sustainable.
“This format of sponsorship alone cannot be able to sponsor all the students. One option is income contingent loans, which means students will start paying the loans once they start working after graduation,” he said. “This will be a form of cost-sharing because the students will be able to pay back the money once they start working.” The government is also considering doing away with the grant loan scheme, which means they should be other options for financing other programmes which are not necessarily part of the one considered to be seriously in demand.
“You will find out that sometimes a student has passion for music or dancing, and they have not scored good marks but want to pursue their passion. We are thinking of introducing government guaranteed loans in partnership with private banks to be able to provide these kinds of loans to these individuals, which is allowing people to diversify what they want to do,” he said.
Dr Madigele hinted on engaging other stakeholders, including Ministry of Finance about the possibility of using Government Employee Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Guaranteed Scheme (GEMVAS) to also include education financing as part of the scheme. Government has admitted to failing to recover sponsorship loans from employees who benefited from the government grant loan scheme. It is estimated that government is owed billions of pula in unrecovered loans. Due to failure by government to put mechanism in place, Dr Madigele said, government is currently recovering about P20 million annually.
“We need to put in place legislative framework that will facilitate Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF) to be able to recover loans. As of now the system is not in place; DTEF does not have the necessary legal instruments, for instance, there is no law that forces employers to declare employees who were government sponsored and how much they earn,” he said. “We also need to create a one-stop centre like Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) to be able to collect data and be able to track those who are working and paying taxes.”
He said it is not easy to change the government machinery as it takes a long time because changing one law may result in other laws being changed as well. Following the creation of HRDC, the mandate of tertiary education funding was transferred from DTEF to the HRDC, which was known previously as Tertiary Education Council (TEC).
Madigele has also dismissed any possibility of free education in Botswana at tertiary level as well as possibility of allowance increment due to government’s desire to increase access to tertiary education. He also noted that the economy is not performing well, which makes it difficult for government to consider allowance increment for tertiary students.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.