Students in Sierra Leone will no longer pay for university application forms

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Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 July 2018:

Gaining university entrance in Sierra Leone is a very costly business for thousands of students and parents across the country, the majority of whom – over 80%, are either unemployed or living well below the poverty line.

When the cost of tuition fees is added to the perverse policy of charging for application forms, then one gets the sense of a government policy that is wired to exclude the poor from gaining higher education.

Yet after ten years in power, presiding over what many regard as a failed education policy, former president Koroma (Photo) says that he is proud of his socialist values and approach to governance.

But there is nothing socialist about asking poor parents of students that are struggling to gain higher education admission to fork out Le 5.6 Billion every year for university application forms.

It is extortionate and promotes education for the few and not the many.

Yesterday, newly elected president Julius Maada Bio decided to eliminate the payment of fees for university application forms, starting from this academic year – September 2018/2019.

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This news comes as part of the new government’s proposed policy of free education for all, which is yet to be unfolded.

It is estimated that the government’s free education programme could cost over $200 million to implement in the first five years.

But the government is struggling to raise revenue to meet its core expenditure.

It says that the former Koroma led government bankrupted the country before leaving office three months ago.

There are demands for former ministers and officials of the Koroma government to face justice for corruption and abuse of office.

Sierra Leone’s economy is struggling. Unemployment is high. Taxation revenue is low. International donor funds have declined.

The IMF is yet to release funds – over $200 million it had frozen under the former Koroma leadership.

With literacy level at 40% and an average daily income of less than $2 per capita, the Bio led government will now be thinking very hard about prioritising its spending to ensure that the right balance is struck between primary, secondary and higher education funding.

So what has president Bio announced? This is what his statements says:

“His Excellency the President has directed that Government pays for the application forms estimated at Le 5.6 billion (FIVE BILLION SIX HUNDRED MILLION LEONES).

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“The total number of targeted beneficiaries is 15,000 students, applying to the University of Sierra Leone (including Fourah Bay College, College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences and Institute for Public Administration and Management), Njala University, Milton Margai College of Education and Technology, Eastern Polytechnic, Freetown Teachers College, University of Makeni, Ernest Bai Koroma University and Bonthe Technical College.

“The refunds will be provided through the Institutions listed above, after a full verification of total number of applicants and amount paid by each applicant. On receipt of funds from Government, the Institutions will refund the same amount to all those who bought application forms for September 2018/2019 academic year.

“His Excellency the President believes that at a time when he inherited an economy that is near collapse, the cost of application forms for university admission is a burden for many parents, guardians and relatives supporting young people to access higher education. Eliminating an estimated Le 5.6 billion for the payment of university application fees will not only be huge savings for parents, guardians and relatives but also it will increase access to higher education for young people.” (End).

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This policy decision will be welcomed by parents across the country.

But there are still questions to be answered about when and how the government’s free universal education programme will be rolled out; how much it will actually cost and how it will be paid for.

President Bio’s finance minister – J.J. saffa will today present the SLPP government’s first Budget to the country’s parliament.

It will outline the government’s expenditure plans for 2018/2019.

Massive cuts in the former APC government’s reckless spending are expected to be announced today, if the SLPP government is to balance the books and pay for vital public services, such as health and education.

Will it make provision for the cost of free education, which the Sierra Leone Telegraph estimates may cost the government over $200 million in the first five years?

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