Zambia govt scraps meal subsidies for students in public universities

Authorities in Zambia have scrapped off meal allowances for state sponsored students at two public universities, a senior official said on Thursday.

Minister of Higher Education Michael Kaingu said the government has decided to stop paying meal allowances to students at the University of Zambia situated in Lusaka, the country’s capital, and the Copperbelt University situated in Kitwe city in the Copperbelt Province on the grounds that the process has been abused in the past.

The government will also stop paying book and project allowances to the students.

A Student protester in the premises of the University of Zambia, Lusaka

In a ministerial statement on the re-opening of the two universities presented to the parliament, the Zambian minister said students who cannot fend for themselves will have to decide whether or not to drop out of school.

The Zambian minister said the ministry will soon present to the parliament a Loans and Scholarships Board Bill which has now been finalized which will replace the current system in which government sponsors students for their education with a loan scheme.

“Our intention is to operationalize this Board in January 2017. Until the Students’ Loan Scheme is in place, government will continue to pay tuition, accommodation and project allowances to the universities. However, we have decided to discontinue the payment of meal allowances to students at the two universities.

This is because the payment of meal allowances has been abused and has over the years been a scourge of unrest at the two universities,” he said.

Meanwhile, the two universities will be reopened next month but this will be subject to certain conditions.

The two universities were closed last month following violent protests over unpaid allowances.

He said the government decided to reopen the two universities have receiving numerous petitions from various stakeholders.

The two universities will be opened next month subject to the institutions meeting conditions that the government has set, he added.

Among the conditions include that authorities at the two universities should identify all the ringleaders during last month’s protests and expel them that the two universities should strictly enforce the use of students’ identity cards and install flood rights, security cameras and beef up other security measures.

The Zambian minister further said all students on government bursary scheme should be surcharged for damage caused to both public and private property during the riots.

But stakeholders have taken to social media to express their misgivings over the government’s decision to scrap meal allowances for students.

Antonio Mwanza, spokesperson of the opposition Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and a former student leader at UNZA, said the decision to arbitrary abolish the meal allowances for students was illegal, irresponsible, unjustifiable and counterproductive.

“The meal allowance is a legal entitlement for all students on government sponsorship, thus it cannot just be scrapped off with a spasm of unguided and irrational emotions. As a component of the binding contract of government sponsorship for students on bursary, it cannot be scrapped off singularly, unilaterally and arbitrary,” he wrote on Facebook.

“Discontinuing to pay meal allowances to UNZA and CBU is not a good decision. It will negatively affect thousands of families and push many bright young Zambians out of these public institutions. It is unprecedented and rather abrupt. The dust it will raise will not settle,” another Facebook user Macpherson Chanda said.

Natasha Mhende, another Facebook user said the move is a drawback to efforts to improve education in the country as many youth from poor families will not be able to afford to send their children to universities.

“It’s unfair, and yet we thought it will be a plus to take our kids to government schools so they can one day benefit from such higher learning institutions. We are down to nothing,” she wrote.

 

– AFP

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