Cabinet has approved a comprehensive review of the social economic categories that made it impossible for children from supposed “rich” families to access government university scholarships.
Known as “Ubudehe”, they were categories in which every Rwandan is placed. For either in 1, 2, 3 or 4, whichever category you belonged also determined which government subsidies you could receive.
In The Chronicles special report “Who Is Manipulating Government’s University Education Policy?” Published in July last year, we detailed how bright students were missing out on university education because they were in a category that didn’t reflect the actual economic status of their families.
Cabinet in its sitting on June 16, approved a new ubudehe policy. Today, Local Government Minister Prof Anastase Shyaka outlined what has changed going forward, in a special appearance on state TV.
“The new categories will no longer be basis for access to any services. Instead, they are going to be database for government to plan and implement evidence-based policies,” he said.
As a result, the numbering formula has been abandoned. The poorest and most vulnerable Rwandans had been placed in Category 1 and 2, a middle class in 3 while the wealthy are in the fourth category. These categories were introduced following the 2012 national census.
With the new scheme, the categories will be five as A, B, C, D and E. The last category E will have those that are miserably poor especially rural elderly and the disabled. In the new scheme, this last category E will be taken care of by the state throughout their lives.
Category C and D will be assisted by government and community to uplift themselves. However, this support will be contractual in such a way that the beneficiary must be on their feet within two years.
Category B, as per new arrangement, are considered the middle class, such as professionals. These will be considered as societal idols in such a way that they will be required to regularly share their skills with people in category C and D.
The last category A, is for the wealthy, high-level political class and intellectuals. They are considered as accomplished in society.
The new categorizations will bring massive shift in how communities are organized throughout the country when implemented in early 2021. However, the biggest change concerns university education.
Since 2013, up to last year, for a student who has completed high school, and hoping to join university, they were evaluated using a complicated system. The Chronicles explained it our report.
For starters, government gives scholarships to 8,000 students every year to attend the University of Rwanda, which engulfs all public universities. But to be among this lot, your high exam score didn’t matter that much, like it is in other countries.
For a student applying to enroll at the University of Rwanda, they are graded with 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 families are in Ubudehe category 3 and 4, are automatically excluded from applying for university government sponsorship. According to the government’s thinking at the time, 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 (science) 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.
Take the case of Ndayizeye Aime, who completed high school in 2017 and should have joined university last year. He couldn’t. 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, a concern he shares with tens of thousands of other Rwandans. At local administrative offices, the biggest chunk of problems received daily, are people complaining they were placed in the “wrong category”.
Social media commentary that followed The Chronicles exposé strongly condemned what some called “class discriminatory education system”. Some comments pointed out that it made no sense barring bright students from getting scholarship loans just because they came from a family branded as “rich”.
Speaking today, Minister Prof Shyaka said: “The brightest students shouldn’t be limited by whatever Ubudehe category they find themselves. As long as you have the grades, and meet other set criteria, you will get the scholarship.”
Students joining university this September will only be graded using high school marks and STEM preference.
The new Ubudehe categories are yet to be implemented. Beginning this July, thousands of enumerators will go from home to home, recording specific data. By end of the year, government will release the findings, which will show the social economic category of all Rwandans, as either in A, B, C, D or E.