Contributor's Opinion

Opinion: On the right to education and the school fees at the University of Juba

By John Deng Diar Diing, Mombasa, Kenya

Juba University, South Sudan....
Juba University, South Sudan….

Oct 30, 2020 (Nyamilepedia) — I have read a lot of rejoinders where individuals quoted how much they paid or was paid for while acquiring their University education. Others have gone as much as calling names for students who are either resistant or unable to pay the 100 USD demanded by the University of them.

Every time I read those pieces of writings, I grind in a cringe of pain, because I studied on scholarship from high school in which Jesuit Refugee Services paid Ksh 21,000 (inaccessible amount of money at the time) a year at Katilu Boys’ Secondary School plus Ksh500 every term as stipend and transport was offered.

I also studied on scholarship at Moi University with the same JRS paying KShs. 130,000 a semester plus monthly stipend of KShs12, 000 for five years, Chevening Scholarship program paying 21,000 GBP fees and 757GBP monthly and now at the Harvard Kennedy School where through the University, I was afforded a prestigious Sheikh al Thani fellowship which generously paid USD 92,000 for tuition and monthly living subsidy.

I cringe because I know that most of us either currently in the West or in South Sudan or whereabouts had at one point in their lives depended on humanitarian aid. I also recoil because I am not an exception in anyway to have studied on scholarships when I needed it the most.

I also know that most people who studied on loan or some form of scholarship had never been asked by their benefactors to declare number of cows they owned in their villages before they benefitted from humanitarian interventions they had to benefit from.

All this happened because some criteria was set and in one way or another, an individual had to meet them. It would therefore be empathic to think of this students like yourself when you needed scholarship to go to the university or pursuing humanitarian form to resettle in Western countries or when you sat on a computer writing your life history to convince University to admit you so that you could have access to education loan.

I repeat, the loan or that scholarship or free education materials that you got to access education could exactly be what free access to University education mean at the University of Juba to a poor student there.

The question therefore, shouldn’t be about access to free University education if you choose to call it that way. It should be about who accesses it and at what criteria. I pay my PhD school fees because I do not qualify for some of the University’s scholarships available but most Kenyans who have met University criteria do and are studying absolutely for ‘free’.

In my yesterday’s op-ed, I clearly stated that I understand the dilemmas facing Prof. Akec as an administrator and an academia. The question of whether to allow for worthless mass education or highly regulated quality education. I also acknowledged that students do have the right to access University education whether through some form of public loan or Government scholarships whether they have cows or money or not.

My take is, the situation at the University of Juba is a public policy problem whose definitive resolution transcends jurisdiction of vice Chancellor. The idea that Prof. John Akecwill use 100 USD fee charge as a killer bullet is misplaced.

It should start with the acknowledgement that it’s a responsibility of any state to ensure that every citizen has access to education. This is not only because education has proven to be the best socio-economic stabilizer in human history, but it is also a way of building productive public which in turn pays taxes to the State.

As Dr. John Garang correctly put it in his Isoke’s speech to Shield VII cadet graduates that ” a poor people means a poor Government”. So the question should be how citizens should be made to access education whether they are able to pay or not as long they work hard to acquire it.

Because I went to school in Kenya, I always like to quote Kenyan system of Education which has done a great justice to its citizens and has made Kenya a towering economic power in the region. I admire how Kenyans have used education as a tool of social justice in their country.

I went to a public University in Kenya where 100% Kenyan students would study on 100% Government scholarship before the introduction of module II which I mentioned yesterday. Before 1999’s introduction of module II, University education was absolutely guaranteed by the government to those who had met requisite condition for Joint Admission Board placement at the University.

The first criteria was to apply minimum mean grade that would qualify a student to be admitted at the University the grade student scored would determine the course student would take. Until early 90s when private universities like Daystar, USIU, Catholic University etc, University education was 100% reserved for public universities and only accessible to students who had met minimum University entry requisite.

It didn’t matter whether your father was rich or poor, as long you studied hard and passed the examinations, you would be admitted to any career that your grade permitted and the government would ensure that you got sufficiently educated. More often, the minimum grade was C+ and anything below that would be admitted to technical schools, teachers colleges, Medical Colleges etc.

This ensured that the number of students that would benefit from government scholarship at the University was preluded by their grades, something parents, with or without money, had little control over apart from creating an apposite ambience for and urging them to study hard.

This system has made great leaders in Kenya from poor families. Something, Deputy President of Kenya is proud of. He calls himself hustler because even he used to sell maize with his mother to raise school fees. He worked hard to secure public University Admission and was vibrant enough at the University to be recognized by KANU Government as one of the rising leaders. We know that he is now very rich, powerful and holds a PhD in Botany, thanks to accessible education.

It was when the number of students who passed minimum University admission required surpassed public University’s capacity when education was liberalized to allow Private universities to offer degrees that would be recognized and that also led to opening of module II to allow those who had passed but willing to pay for themselves access universities. But exclusive scholarship, through High Education Loan Board, at public universities for Kenyans who have met Government entry requirement is still an absolute right of their citizens. Most countries around the world do this.

I therefore, find it offensive for our people who mostly accessed their education through humanitarian aid  to go about taunting how much was paid for their University education instead of putting themselves in the shoes of poor boys and girls who only see free public education as a panacea to their socio-economic morass.

It’s really disappointing to see people who benefitted from humanitarian intervention disparaging poor kids who are trying to have a chance in life. The question should be who qualifies for University admission and for Government subsidy and how Government would recover that money in future, which is a policy issue at play.

To Prof. John Akec, if a bright student is not able to raise 100USD, he shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s your responsibility to raise fund including from South Sudanese working class to pay for this 100US, as long as you can prove that he or she is genuinely not able to raise it. It’s their right to access University education as long as they belabored to meet University admission requirement.

You should start by dismissing those who didn’t pass high enough to deserve University admission. What I don’t agree with, is paying for students who did not deserve to be admitted at the University in the first place. They must prove their warranty through high school grades.

I want to conclude by stating that, over 80% of current elites in South Sudan comes from poor families but access to education had changed their fate. Why would we not put ourselves in the shoes of these kids?? They deserve to be educated as long as they passed their national examinations and deservingly got admitted through objective public university admission criteria.

The author, Eng. John Deng Diar Diing, is the Deputy Director for Infrastructure Development and Management at the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority in Mombasa, Kenya. He can be reached via his email: diardeng@gmail.com

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