PRIME Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has announced that low-interest government loans will be provided to Fijian students who are accepted at tertiary institutions in Fiji from next year.
Commodore Bainimarama said the new Tertiary Education Loan Scheme (TELS) would cover up to the full cost of tuition and will not have to be repaid until after a student has graduated and received employment.
He said Fijians from families that earned less than $25,000 a year would not pay interest on these loans.
"Those from families that earn between $25,000 and $50,000 a year will pay an interest rate of 0.5 per cent, those from families that earn between $50,000 and $100,000 will pay an interest rate of 1 per cent, and those from families that earn more than $100,000 will pay an interest rate of 2 per cent," Commodore Bainimarama said.
He said TELS would be available to anyone who needs it.
"We will also have certain courses for which full tertiary scholarships will be granted to the top 600 school leavers.
"This will act as a powerful incentive for students to take their studies seriously, and will ensure that all of Fiji's brightest have the opportunity to continue their education and eventually enter the workforce as leaders in their field.
He said the $30million scheme will be administered by government in partnership with the Fiji Higher Education Commission and the universities.
Also, government's new program available to all Fijians will replace the iTaukei, Multi-Ethnic and PSC Scholarships.
"Every Fijian youth, no matter what their background or where they live, will have the same opportunity to attend university."
And students who have already applied for one of these scholarships will have their applications processed under this scheme.
"Those students who are currently on an iTaukei, Multi-Ethnic and PSC scholarships will not be affected. $26 million will go to continue to support these programs."
Education Minister Filipe Bole said he was glad because his ministry had been allocated the largest share in the budget.
"It's a deserved one because it's the biggest ministry and employs the largest number of civil servants — more than 10,000 teachers."
Education permanent secretary Dr Brij Lal clarified that the free education for primary and secondary schools does not include privately run schools and early childhood centres.