GOVERNMENT is restructuring the controversial Presidential Scholarship Fund as its funders, described as well-wishers, have stopped bankrolling the programme, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has said.
The Presidential Scholarship Programme was founded in 1995 to give academically-gifted students from poor families a chance to study at South African universities.
President Robert Mugabe is the patron of the fund. The programme drew students from each of the country’s 10 provinces.
However, due to government’s failure to pay tuition and provide welfare allowances for the students, some students have reportedly been forced into prostitution and drug dealing to survive.
Chinamasa told Parliament last week that his ministry was mobilising resources to ensure that students who are currently on the programme complete their studies.
He was responding to MDC-T chief whip Innocent Gonese’s motion on the Presidential Scholarship Fund annual budget and speaking on behalf of the Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa.
Gonese had asked whether it was not prudent to use the fund to upgrade the infrastructure of local universities in order to arrest the capital outflow.
“The Presidential Scholarship has been run over all these years from well-wishers and not from government resources. In recent months, there have been difficulties to raise money from well-wishers; a situation which has caused a lot of difficulties to students who are under this programme,” said Chinamasa in response.
He said the Finance ministry was now seeking to mobilise resources to ensure that beneficiaries complete their degree programmes.
“We are going to put a cost on our budget for the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education Science and Technology Development,” said Chinamasa.
“I must also say that there has been an on-going rethink on the focus of the Presidential Scholarship. The rethink basically is that, in future, we should target the skills development of specialist skills of only those students whom we want to advance their skills in specialist areas.”
However, Chinamasa’s response was unsatisfactory to some legislators with Kuwadzana MP Nelson Chamisa asking him if it was wise to fund the programme instead of using the money to improve local universities and colleges.
But the Finance minister shot back saying: “As usual, the honourable member did not listen to what I said. I said there are students in the pipeline in universities all over, in South Africa and elsewhere. We cannot abandon those students.
“We must continue funding them so that they continue and complete their degree programmes. It is for that purpose that we will put it in the budget to make sure that they succeed. I said in future, we are undergoing a rethink on this policy.”
Under the review process, Chinamasa said there would be a skills audit in all sectors to determine which specialist skills were required.
He maintained that all past and current beneficiaries are from disadvantaged families.
“If those skills can be obtained here, fair and square, but if we think we can obtain them on the outside, our future Presidential Scholarship Fund needs to target the development of those specialist skills. Currently the scholarship has been targeting children of disadvantaged parents and it has served that purpose.”
However, Chinamasa could not give a breakdown of all beneficiaries per province and was ordered to provide the list next week.