Scholarships should be fair to all

For a long time, many educationists and commentators have suggested that the current government of Uganda scholarship scheme is flawed and needs to be discarded.

In its current form, the government undergraduate scholarship scheme rewards top performers, who mostly are from expensive schools in Kampala and Wakiso.

Many people argue that instead of rewarding children of the rich, government should design a new scheme that promotes educational equity, gender balance, and fairness. 

It does not make sense to give a scholarship to someone who was paying Shs1,500,000 per term for an undergraduate programme that costs Shs1,000,000 per semester.
The government undergraduate scholarships scheme takes in 4,000 students annually, and is structured into three categories. 
Firstly, government scholarship under direct admissions scheme or national merit.

This admits the best (about 3,000) students across the country for programmes they selected in public universities. This is strictly under merit. 

Secondly, government scholarship – district quota scheme. This admits top performing students from each district. This takes about 800. 

Thirdly, sports and special needs – this caters for those who would ordinarily not fall under the above two criteria. It supports outstanding sportsmen and women, and also people with disabilities. This supports 200 students.

Most agree that the current system rewards the children of the rich, who go to expensive schools, get high marks and then study free at university. On the other hand, those who get the scholarship passed exceedingly well, and should not be victimised because they worked hard. 

However, the other side of the argument is that all schools do the same national exam, and therefore it is the responsibility of all schools to compete for these scholarships. 

Same curriculum, same duration of study, same qualifications of teachers, and same exam. While most of this is true, the major difference is largely on educational resources available in schools. These include libraries, labs, educational technology, and teacher’s motivation, among others. 

I believe resources in schools, especially financial resources, should be used in ways that enable and support students to achieve academic success and proceed to next level of education. Secondary school is mid-level education stage and should be taken seriously. 

In Lango sub-region for example, in 2020, all the top schools failed to provide even a single student for government admission, under national merit. 

Some people argue that, to promote educational equity, the government should make all admissions to be under district quota. In this case, specific slots are allocated to students in a particular district. 

This argument does not hold, because students are only admitted to universities for programmes for which they qualify (because of their grades), not because they come from a specific district. The grades (points) and subject eligibility for a programme is the most important aspect for admission, not where you come from. 

But undoubtably, there can be a better way to give these scholarships, in ways that promote equity, and fairness, enabling many students from diverse backgrounds to benefit. The current system punishes the poor, and rewards the rich. 

Admittedly, schools should embrace interventions and measures that support students to achieve educational excellence and academic progression. For those from humble backgrounds, failing to get government scholarship means the end of the education journey. It is a desperate attempt. 

Most importantly, students must study with a lot of determination and hard work so as to achieve the required points and progress to next level. For in the end, they will be the ones who will rejoice or cry when the scholarship list is released. The world rewards and recognizes those who do their part and stand out. 

This article was also published on Daily Monitor


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