Tanzania: HESLB Makes Progress in Cracking Student Loan Crisis

Tanzania introduced the students' loan scheme for the first time in 1994 to cover accommodation and meal expenses for all learners with admission to public and private accredited higher learning institutions.

And, over a decade later, in July 2005, the government established the Higher Education Students' Loans Board (HESLB) for two major tasks: Loan allocation to needy and qualified students; and collection of outstanding mature loans.

Unfortunately, during its first decade of operations, HESLB, popularly referred to as loan board, almost failed in both tasks, becoming identical to students' unrest in higher learning institutions. Hardly an academic term ended without university students going violent over unpaid money for accommodation and meals.

Demonstrations and crowding at the board's offices became part and parcel of university students' itineraries. HESLB Executive Director, Abdul-Razaq Badru, recalls the unfortunate trend.

"It wasn't our fault to delay money disbursements to students. WE also felt pity but there was nothing we could do because the board was financially crippled. As furious students thronged the board offices demanding their money, the board officers camped at the treasury, praying for the allocation," says Mr Badru, assuring that the loan board is currently highly liquid and universities receive the money even before students' arrivals at campuses.

During his campaigns to the country's top office, President John Magufuli had the students' loans as one of his key items of the agenda. He couldn't apprehend why innocent Tanzanians in their genuine pursuit of education were subjected to what he termed "tortures," unjustifiably.

At one of his campaign rallies, Dr Magufuli vowed to make students protests over unreleased or delayed loans history in Tanzania. "After all, the money is a loan that will be repaid, why should beneficiaries demonstrate to get it," queried the then campaigner. Probably, few people, if any, took Dr Magufuli seriously.

Majority could have had dismissed the pledge as another politically motivated statement aiming at canvassing votes. But, Dr Magufuli being "not just another politician" has walked his talks. Immediately after assuming office on November 5, 2015, he started working on the pledges, with the students' loans appearing top on his to-do-list.

The government had already allocated 341bn/-for loans to students in higher learning institutions and immediately President Magufuli gave the board an impressive financial boost of 132bn/-, bringing the budget to 473bn/-, which benefited 125,126 students, from the previous year's 100,936 beneficiaries. And, in the entire four years of President Magufuli at the Magogoni office, students' loans seem to have secured the lasting solution.

The government has been releasing the money timely, making students' unrest in higher learning institutions unheard of. "The problem we currently encounter is universities' delays in issuing us invoices... but, we often disburse students' money even before they arrive at campuses," boasts Mr Badru, assuring that the loan board is currently highly liquid.

As with other sectors and subsectors, Magufuli's administration has performed wonders in the financing of higher learning through the loan board.

The government has during the board's 14 years of operations, disbursed 3.8tri/-to 400,100 students of higher learning institutions, with 1.8tri/-or 47 per cent of the entire disbursement released within the last four years under President Magufuli.

Beneficiaries have as well increased from 100,936 in 2014/15 to 128,285 students, this academic year. After perfecting the first task of allocating money to the needy and qualified beneficiaries, the board is now shifting its focus on loan recoveries, with the aim of entirely financing its budget using the revolving fund.

Already, loan recoveries are covering 41 per cent of the board's 450bn/-budget from a mere five per cent in the 2014/15 academic year. Mr Badru is optimistic that under the current loan recovery rate, the board will fully finance its annual budget by 2021/22 academic year.

"In the past four years, the board has collected 574bn/-, almost 90 per cent of the total 641bn/- recovered since HESLB establishment in 2005," Mr Badru said, crediting President Magufuli with the great success. The 641bn/-accounts for 63 per cent of the students' 1.01tri/-matured loans, putting the board's non-performing loans at 37 per cent.

He said under the current environment of improved working relations between the board and other stakeholders, compulsory HESLB deductions and beneficiaries' willingness to repay, the board will greatly improve the loan recoveries in the near future.

"The board's loan recoveries have within four years increased almost ten times from 21bn/- in 2014/15 to 183bn/-in the 2018/19 fiscal year," boasted Mr Badru.

HESLB Director of Loan Allocation and Disbursement Dr Veronica Nyantori says the board is currently working hard to ensure great efficiency in loan issuance. "We are determined to ensure that only the needy get the loans for what they exactly need," said Dr Nyantori.

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