Loan scheme burdens students with debts: Political parties

The Government's Tertiary Education Loans Scheme (TELS) is burdening students with debts even before they start work, some political parties say. Picture: FT FILE

GOVERNMENT’S Tertiary Education Loans Scheme (TELS) is burdening students with debts even before they start work, some political parties say.

In our election issue this week, we questioned six registered political parties contesting the 2018 polls on their views on State’s scholarship schemes and the policies they have on scholarships for Fijian students.

The National Federation Party (NFP), Fiji Labour Party (FLP) and the Unity Fiji party are of the view that the biggest challenge facing the country’s education sector is the affordability of university fees.

The FijiFirst party, Freedom Alliance Party and the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) did not respond to the question when this edition went to press last night. Questions were sent to the parties via electronic mail (email) on Monday.

The NFP, FLP and Unity Fiji responded to the question. NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad said the Government prides itself in the so-called fact that an unprecedented number of students were in preschools, primary schools, secondary schools and universities.

“It claims its so-called unprecedented policies of ‘free’ bus fare, ‘free’ primary and secondary education and TELS put students into schools and universities. But is education well and truly free? It is only tuition-free in primary and secondary schools. There was free tuition as well in the past, as early as late 1970s and 1980s when poor students got their fees remitted.”

FLP parliamentary leader Aman Ravindra-Singh said under the student loan scheme, any amount borrowed needed to be paid back.

“The other point is that there is a bar on overseas travel under TELS. Whether you can get jobs locally or not, one can’t travel overseas unless the outstanding loan is paid off or satisfactory arrangement made for its repayment,” Mr Ravindra-Singh said.

Unity Fiji leader, Savenaca Narube said education was a right not a privilege. “The biggest barriers to tertiary education are finding a place in an education institute and paying the tuition fees,” Mr Narube said.

“Finding a place is not a constraint because of the many institutions that we currently have. The biggest challenge is the affordability of fees to the students of poor families.”

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