HUNDREDS of students at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) – Natural Resources College (NRC) campus—are being denied access to government loans from the Higher Education Students Loans and Grants Board (HESLGB).
The Daily Times has gathered that Luanar authorities came up with such a discriminatory decision on grounds that education loans should only be granted to students pursuing degree courses and not diploma students.
Further, the authorities argue that the NRC is a commercial entity. Such is the case despite the government’s decision to merge the NRC and the Bunda College of Agriculture into Luanar through an Act of Parliament of 2011.
Former students’ leader at the NRC, Denis Mahata, decried the development saying it is discriminatory to needy students pursuing various diploma programmes at the NRC.
“The law is clear that the loans board is obliged to grant the education loans to every person pursuing higher education at a government institution, regardless of their level of study. We find this prejudiced,” Mahata said.
He added that this is in contradiction with legislation governing government loans and grants for institutions of higher learning.
Section (5)24 of the Higher Education Students’ Loans and Grants Act states that “government shall provide loan to any Malawian admitted to pursue or is pursuing an accredited higher education programme at an accredited institution and has no financial support to cover costs.”
According to Mahata, the merger of the two colleges five years ago created demand for courses at the NRC with a majority of students from poor families enrolling at the college with the hope of acquiring higher education with government sponsorship.
Newly elected chairperson for the students’ union at the NRC, Rafik Shuga, echoed his predecessor’s sentiments saying 45 percent of the students’ population at the campus are needy and deserve the loans.
“I am a few days old into the office but information, though unverified, indicates that someone is politicising the whole system. But we are trying to engage the relevant authorities to clear the mess and ensure that the cake is shared equally among all Luanar students,” he stressed.
Commenting on the matter NRC Registrar, Maxwell Mbweza, admitted that there is a misunderstanding of some of the clauses in the Act on eligibility.
But HESLGB Executive Director, Chris Chisoni, maintained that the board is providing loans to students at the NRC campus. Chisoni’s sentiments were to an extent substantiated by our confidential source at the loans board who pushed blame on authorities at Luanar who he alleged sideline the NRC campus.
The source said authorities from the NRC campus were not part of the crucial meetings sometime back where the loans issue was discussed. “The loans board will issue a specific number of grants to Luanar as an entity which have to be shared between the campuses, so it could be an anomaly,” said the source.
Meanwhile, the Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Alex Major, has expressed shock at the development and said the committee would follow it up with the concerned parties.
Luanar officials could not be reached for comment.