VICENT Mushi (18) from Uru -Ungoma Kilimanjaro region, will not have to physically travel to any higher learning institution across the country to purchase admission forms, fill and submit or send them through the postal system, thanks to the introduction of the International Development Association funded Central Admission System (CAS).
The computerized application system managed by the Tanzanian Commission for Universities (TCU) has lessen the burden that prospective students had to go through before getting admitted to a higher learning institution.
The online application system was introduced in the country in 2010 as part of an overall strategy to improve quality and equity in the country's higher education sector, supported by the International Development Fund. The burden that prospective students had to go through constituted money and time spent when trying to get admission to a university in the country.
CAS has reduced the charges, which include application fees, travel costs and accommodation during the application period, from nearly a million to 30,000/-, which is about US 20 dollars.
"Before CAS, applicants had to physically travel to institutions, purchase admission forms, fill them and submit them back, sometimes through the postal system, without any guarantee that the forms will be received by the institutions," TCU Executive Secretary Prof Sifuni Mchome said.
For many students, especially those living far from higher learning institutions, it was quite an ordeal going through the application process, wasting a lot of time and money, with no guarantee of fair and equitable access to higher education, since each institution had its own admission criteria.
The cumbersome process resulted to multiple selections as institutions were competing for the same students, which also led to another problem of loan abuse, Professor Mchome said. Citing an example that took place in 2009 before CAS had been implemented, he noted that there were about 7,000 applicants with multiple admissions out of 35, 355 applicants in that particular year.
He says there were frequent cases of students entering universities without genuine certificates because it was difficult to detect applicants with forged certificates, saying that this challenge has been addressed with the introduction of the online application system.
Prof Mchome says cases of forged certificates are normally taken to court, where young students are usually fined and given a warning, while older students, especially those working while studying face jail terms. "There are cases pending at Kisutu court, but we usually do not publicize them because we don't want to condemn these students to destitution," he explained.
With CAS now in place, multiple admission is no longer an issue, since all applicants are now centrally managed, raising trust and promoting excellence in higher education admission process. There is also a wide choice of programmes, ranging from six to eight, where students can now select their preferred choices.
Prof Mchome adds that this has also minimized forgery and malpractices in the admission of students, thereby raising confidence in the higher education systems, although there is a number of students who applied directly to the universities.
"There are still a number of students who applied directly to the higher learning institutions, about 5000 of them, in which we detected only 3 who had forged certificates," he explained. Through CAS in the 2012/13 admission circle, TCU was also able to document the number of applicants who may have special needs, He said there were 450 such applicants who were selected, out of which 154 were female and 256 were male.
"The highest case of disability was visual impairment, accounting for 154 cases, followed by asthma with 134 cases while mobility impairment had 43 cases. Prof Mchome said previously this was not possible, noting that the government can now plan having in mind the number of student with special needs and provide them with support.
Admission is strictly based on the admission capacity of respective institutions and entre requirement of each programme hence increasing fairness and objectivity. "CAS has addressed many challenges which faced students applying to higher learning institutions, and economists have attested that through the online system, we are saving billions of shillings," Prof Mchome proudly noted.
He admits that without the support of the World Bank through the Science Technology and Higher Education Project (STHEP), these achievements would not have been possible.
"Without the support it would have been a tall mountain to climb and we realize all that we have been able to currently achieve," he said, noting that the entire World Bank team in the country is available and ready to offer advice.
Currently there are 48 universities which are already part of CAS and only three, two from Zanzibar and one from mainland, are not yet using the online application system. One other challenge that CAS is facing, he said, is that some students still travel to TCU premises to access CAS and some that do not make their mind on programmes they want to pursue and when the system closes down, travel all the way to TCU to have the programmes physically changed.
"All the information on the website is correct, students do not need to travel to Dar es Salaam to do their online application from TCU offices. We also have students travelling with their parents to have programmes they had chosen changed once the system has been closed, sometimes we assist but there are times when we are forced to refuse because we need students to make up their minds before choosing a programme to pursue," noted Prof Mchome.
Citing several regions as an example, he noted that CAS is accessible all over the country, noting that in 2011/12 in Nyakato Mwanza region, 3019 students accessed the online application system, in Sengerema, Shinyanga region 6018, Kibondo in Kigoma region 2720, Rugambwa, Kagera region, 4237, Mbalizi in Mbeya region, 4072, Ifakara, Morogoro region 4154 and Kibiti in Lindi region 4245 students.
World Bank Country Director (Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi Africa Region) Mr Philippe Dongier is also stunned by the good progress TCU has made in the last two years when the system was implemented, noting that all the achievements are real, whereby students can apply on time and cut costs which they would have otherwise incurred travelling to host institutions to physically do the applications.
"We are delighted to be partners in this project, it requires this kind of dedication and leadership to get such achievements," he added. He said such initiatives are crucial to the development of the country's human capital in order to safeguard the gains that the government has so far made in stabilizing the macroeconomic environment and in boosting enrolment at primary and secondary level.
Although he has little knowledge on how to use the internet, something which the TCU Executive Secretary acknowledges as a big challenge for many applicants in the country, he says young master Mushi feels that by the time he completes school, he will be conversant enough.
His mobile phone is connected to the internet, and a small internet café which opened recently at the town village will help give him the skills to apply online when the time comes. So now, young Mushi will not need to undertake the costly journey all the way to Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, Morogoro or any other region in the country to apply for a placement at any university once he completes his A-Level education.