July 22, 2019

Who Is Manipulating Government’s University Education Policy?

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  • Inside Growing Rift Between Education Ministry and University of Rwanda Over STEM Policy

  • After 2020, Government University Scholarships Will Be For STEM Courses Only

For the last two academic years, no single student has been admitted into the History department of the University of Rwanda on Government sponsorship. Neither has any student applied to pay for themselves.

A parliamentary committee heard on July 9 that in the whole country, nearly all professionals who hold university degree in literature and linguistics are above 45 years, which means that no new people are joining the field.

“If action isn’t taken to put a break to the trend, very soon Rwanda will have no professional custodians of the Kinyarwanda language and culture,” said Prof Cyprien Niyomugabo, chair of the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture, during the committee hearing.

Prof Niyomugabo is not the only worried voice. A rift has been widening between the University of Rwanda (UR), on one side, and the education ministry on the other, over a contested government policy to provide university funding to only science students.

Since the 2016-2017 academic year, government decided that it will no longer pay for arts courses. The focus would be on the so called ‘STEM’ (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

The University of Rwanda was born in 2013 from a merger of all the then seven government funded universities. Today, they operate as colleges under a single management led by Prof. Phil Cotton, as Vice Chancellor.

In a rather bizarre exchange, the rift between the education ministry and Prof Cotton’s team was on display in a session of Parliament’s Economy and Budget Committee on May 14. The two teams were appearing to defend their budget estimates for 2019-2020.

Education Minister Dr Eugene Mutimura affirmed to the parliamentary committee that there would be no turning back on the STEM policy, even as the team from UR argued that the country needs both science and arts professionals.

For the current academic year 2018-2019 which ends in a few weeks, the university has 28,600 students – with 61 % them doing STEM courses, compared to 39% doing non-STEM courses. The number of private students is very small, as most of the students at UR are government-funded.

Highly placed sources in government have told The Chronicles that in addition to 90% of the 8,000 annual government scholarships being reserved for science students, some people within government are pushing the policy even further to eliminate non-STEM courses despite their value.

121 STEM courses, 90 non-STEM

The University of Rwanda administration was directed last year to review its budgeting to ensure that 90 percent of the resources it gets are allocated to development and reinforcement of science infrastructure like labs and training for STEM lecturers, according to our source.

For the previous financial year, the central government increased the university’s annual budget by more than Rwf 11bn- from Rwf 25.2 bn to Rwf 36 bn – a 43.6% increase of the budget.

There is a behind-the-scene bloc in Government that is pushing to make sure that less than 10% of this UR budget goes to sustaining arts courses.

Even still, there are specific non-STEM courses government says it will keep supporting – which are in the fields of accounting, finance and economics.

From a list of courses obtained from UR, it has a total of 211 bachelors’ degree courses. 121 of them are non-STEM, while 90 are STEM.

It means if government gets its way, the University of Rwanda could keep less than 10 non-STEM programs from the total. The students who qualify to be enrolled in those remaining here will have scored very highly in the national exams.

“The little sponsorship available for non-STEM goes to students pursuing quasi-exact disciplines such as finance….where it is possible to score very high…,” said our source.

“We are not giving up yet. We will keep negotiating with [High Education Council] and [education ministry] to proportionally distribute the little government sponsorship to non-STEM disciplines or else we shall have to close some of them like History, Literature, etc., and it would indeed be a pity for our country.”

Government allocates Rwf 2million for each STEM student annually and Rwf 800,000 for non-STEM student as tuition. Each of the students also gets a monthly cash living allowance of Rwf 35,000.

This funding isn’t “free money” but a loan that each student sponsored will have to repay.

On the road to eliminate arts courses from its expenditure, government is left with one single hurdle: the Ubudehe socio-economic classification which categorises every Rwandan in one of the 4 categories.

The poorest and most vulnerable Rwandans are placed in Category 1 and 2, while the wealthy are in the fourth category. These categories were introduced following the 2012 national census.

The local government ministry is currently undertaking a review of the Ubudehe program in response to fierce criticism from all corners.

For a student applying to enroll at the University of Rwanda, a complicated mechanism grades three elements to make up the grade 100 for the student. 20 grades is allocated to the Ubudehe category, 40 grades for the field of study and the remaining 40 grades for the score from the national exam. Last year, the cut-point was 52 grades and above to enter UR.

Students whose family is in Ubudehe category 3 and 4 are automatically excluded from applying for university government sponsorship. According to the Government’s thinking, parents in this category can pay university tuition for their children.

It means that a student from a poor family ranked in Ubudehe category 1 will automatically get 20 grades, and in case they are applying for STEM course – will get higher ranking to qualify for university, even if they get a very low pass-mark from the national exam.

It also means that for a student ranked in Ubudehe category 2, deemed to be in relatively good economic conditions, it is extremely difficult to qualify for admission into UR if you are applying for a non-STEM course. For people in this category, they have to be among the best students nationally.

These enrollment grades are generated by the High Education Council (HEC) from a list of documents each student submits. Should you be in a category that is a complete contrast of your actual wellbeing state, you find yourself having to desperately convince HEC otherwise.

Only STEM at UR after 2020?

Education Minister Dr Eugene Mutimura appearing before the budget and economy committee of the Lower Chamber of Parliament with all affiliated agencies including UR. It during this session that the disagreement over how to implement the STEM policy was open for everyone to see between the Minister and UR officials

Ndayizeye Aime finished high school in 2017 and should have joined university last year. He is not studying. He scored good exam grades and obtained admission from the UR College of Education to study English and Kiswahili.

However, his family is placed in Ubudehe category 3, “yet we are poor” – which means he does not qualify for government funding.

“I got a total of 46 grades out of 73, but I did not get the government scholarship loan because my family appears in Ubudehe category 3 of people considered able to finance their education. Yet there are students who are in the first category and got loans despite scoring lower grades than me like 43 out of 73.”

Ndayizeye is convinced his family was wrongly placed in Ubudehe category 3, and he shares the same concerns with hundreds of other Rwandans. At local administrative offices, the biggest chunk of problems received daily are people complaining they were placed in the “wrong category”.

Laetitia Nkunda, the director general of the Local Administrative Entities Development Agency (LODA), which is overseeing the review of the Ubudehe categorizations, told The Chronicles that the new system will be in place before the end of this year.

Students applying for scholarship loans for the academic year 2020-2021 which begins in September 2020 will not be required to submit Ubudehe form to the education ministry – which is filled at the Sector level. They will only file an admission letter from any of the UR colleges where only science students will be considered.

At the education ministry and High Education Council, they are determined to implement the cabinet’s ‘only STEM’ policy, but why is the University of Rwanda less enthusiastic?

The University of Rwanda officials fear that some arts programs will disappear as the government is reluctantly offering scholarships to students who want to join them.

During the parliamentary committee session on the education budget, Dr Papias Malimba Musafiri, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Strategic Planning and Administration, described non-STEM courses as “endangered species”.

“We fully support that government’s plan to put 90 percent of resources into STEM programs…there is no doubt it will lead to the collapse of non-STEM programs some of which are useful to the country,” said Musafiri, himself the immediate former minister of education.

He was replaced with Dr Mutimura on December 6, 2017 – which is clear indication that he is privy to whatever transpired leading to the birth of the STEM policy.

Could Dr Musafiri’s guarded resistance, which he shares with the other UR top hierarchy be influenced by something they have not been willing to share publicly?

Some sections within UR senior management suspect that forces witnin the many mushrooming private universities – with vested interests to make money, are pushing the education ministry to force UR to focus only on STEM.

14 ministers in 25 years

Interestingly, students continue to take up non-STEM subject combinations at high school level in very high numbers.

As a result, say this bloc, the government will be supporting the poor who cannot afford private university tuition, leaving the increasing middle class to be served by the private universities.

“The policy has all the good intentions. The unintended benefit is that the private universities want it badly. If fully implemented, the people setting up universities will make money from the rich students who will in fact be many and willing to pay whatever amount of tuition,” said the official, who cited specific names, which we have opted not to publish.

The Chronicles was unable to secure interview with Dr Mutimura to have him to discuss the STEM policy in detail. Staff in his office promised to arrange the interview on May 27. By press time, they had not answered our repeated calls and messages.

A respected source told The Chronicles that one of the main problem in the education sector is high-turn-over of top officials in the ministry of education; limited institutional memory and constant changes of policy by each minister that is appointed to the ministry.

The ministry of education has had the highest turn-over of ministers in the last 25 years with, on average, a minister serving for two-years. And each minister that comes in introduces new policies that sometimes overturn or disregard the predecessor’s plans.

Since July 1994 when the first post-genocide government of national unity was put in place led by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) up to today, the ministry of education has had 14 ministers including two former Prime Ministers Rwigema Pierre Celestin and Dr Pierre Damien Habumuremyi.

Dr Charles Muriganda, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Institutional Advancement of the University of Rwanda, has also held the portfolio.

Sometimes the ministry has had a minister and state minister (junior minister), like it is currently. It suggests that on average there has been a new minister of education every one-and-half years.

Here is full list of Ministers of Education

Dr. Nsengiyumva Joseph


July 1994-1999

Rwigema Pierre Celestin

Ngirabanzi Laurien

Col Joseph Karemera

Emmanuel Mudidi



Prof. Romain Murenzi


Dr Mujawamariya Jeanne D’Arc


Dr. Gakwaya Daphrosa


Dr. Charles Muligande



Dr. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi

May-October 2011


Dr. Vincent Biruta



Prof. Silas Lwakabamba



Dr. Papias Musafili Mulimba



Dr. Eugene Mutimura

Appointed 6/12/2017

ERRATA: This story has been slightly modified. According to UR, the 2018-2019 enrollment is as follows: STEM – 61%, Non-STEM – 39%.
The table below was provided by UR on July 25. The previous version of the text indicated STEM was 38.1% while Non-STEM was 61.9%.

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