The current Tertiary Education Student Assistance Scheme (TESAS) administered by PNG Department of Higher Education Science & Technology (DHERST) which selects and sponsors students at Tertiary Education needs urgent review by the Government. There are compelling factors that warrants the review in for the nation to progress in terms of educating the next generation of leaders and labour force. Before looking at those factors it is important to look at the background of the TESAS.
National Tertiary Student Scholarship (NATSCHOL)
TESAS was introduced in 1999 and fully implemented in 2000 by the PNG government to replace the National Tertiary Student Scholarship (NATSCHOL) that existed before. The reform was part of drastic public sector reforms recommended by international organizations, particularly the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to developing countries as part of the response to 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis which impacted world economies. The main trust of the recommended reforms was to reduce public sector expenditure and sell public utilities companies that were state owned in key industries like electricity, finance and banking, water and sewage, telecommunications and transport to the private sector investors in what is infamously known around the world as World Bank’s Public Private Partnership Program (PPPP). The PPPP was widely viewed as bank’s condition for developing countries to access international financial assistance to mitigate the economic impact of the financial crisis at that time.
Under NATSCHOL, tertiary education fees for all students in all the tertiary institutions around the country were hundred percent covered the by national government. The scholarship includes, boarding and lodging, meals, one return airfare and book allowance. This was considered PNG Government one public expenditure cost cutting area. Based on that TEAS was introduced and implemented in 2000. However, it was met by student protest from all the State Universities and College. During those years, Student Representative Council (SRC) of each institution were very active on national issues and they have formed the PNG Students Union. PNG Students Union was like the trade like the national trade union of the student population.
To ease the resistance from PNG Student Union, the government introduced the Student Loan program whereby students who were not under TESAS Scholarship award can apply and repay later when they get formal employment. The student loan scheme was poorly implemented and failed but the TESAS scheme still continues to exist to this day.
Historical Rationale Behind NATSCHOL and TESAS
National Scholarship Scheme (NATSCHOL) was first established in 1977 right after the country gained Independence from Australia. During that time, most of the lower and secondary education system was with the different church organizations around the country. Ever few or in most areas none state funded primary and secondary schools existed. Most the schools were church administered institutions. At the same time, the country’s human resource that was needed to govern the new independent state of PNG was lacking. Most of the public sector employees were foreigners and very few were locals. So in order to prepare the natives for public sector administrative roles in the new government, NATSCHOL was established. Four regional National High Schools were established. One in each region. Passam National High School in East Sepik province for Momase region, Sogeri National High School in Central province for Southern Region, Kerevat National High School in East New Britain province for New Guinea Islands region and Ayiura National High School in Eastern Highlands for the Highlands region.
The transitional administrative government also saw that the PNG was so diverse in culture and ethnicity and national unity within the public sector was crucial for the development of the infant nation. To build that unity, the top performing students from who passed out of Year 10 in the lower education system were selected from the schools in the provinces and flown to these four National High Schools. There, the students spend two pre-university years (Grade 11 and Grade 12) and sat the national tertiary education entrance final examinations commonly known as National Grade 12 Examinations. From the National High Schools, students were then selected to attend the state-run universities, technical colleges, teacher’s colleges, nursing colleges nationwide. During their stay at National High Schools, students met and interacted with fellow students from all parts of the country and it also provided a perfect opportunity to learn and experience the culture, food, and live with people of the institution’s host province. For example, for the students from the nation’s interior highlands who went to Kerevat National High School in ENB it was their first time to eat fish, drink kulau (young coconut juice), ride in canoe or swim in the sea. The bond and friendship that developed among the students further strengthened when they entered tertiary institutions.
NATSCHOL was manageable because it students were selected from only four National High Schools and entrance to tertiary institutions was almost guaranteed unlike now.
Tertiary Education Student Assistance Scheme (TESAS)
TESAS was introduced because the NATSCHOL was one public expenditure that government had to cut. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank recommended major public expenditure cuts to developing countries including PNG in what it viewed as a preventive measure from countries going into bankruptcy. So that it doesn’t have to bear the cost of bailing them out of economic fallouts because of the impact of world Asian financial crisis of 1998.
According the DHERST Handbook of Policy and Procedures 2016, there are four categories of awards
1.Academic Excellence Scholarship (AES)
This undergraduate scholarship is awarded to:
- High-achieving Grade 12 school leavers admitted to university or college undergraduate program approved for TESAS Awards
- Continuing undergraduate students, both TESAS and fee-paying students who have completed their previous year in an approved university program and attained excellence academic results.
2.Higher Education Contribution Assistance Scheme (HECAS)
This Contribution Assistance is awarded to :
- Grade 12 School Leavers who have been admitted to an undergraduate program at a university or college approved TESAS awards and have attained the qualifying minimum GPA level or above.
- Continuing undergraduate students both TESAS and fee-paying, who have completed their previous year in an approved program at a university or college and have attained qualifying minimum PGA level or above.
3.Gender Equity Scholarships
This undergraduate Scholarship is designed to improve gender equity and will be introduced in 2017. It aims to encourage women who have already completed secondary schooling and entered the workforce to undertake Bachelor Degree studies in particular fields that are currently underrepresented by women.
The Scholarship is merit-based and, to be eligible, applicants must have graduated from Grade 12 over two years ago and secured entry into a Bachelor Degree program that is approved to accept Gender Equity Scholarship Awardees.
The Scholarship is for the first year of Bachelor Degree study only. The Awardee will be automatically considered for an AES or HECAS Award to continue their studies in the following year.
Scholarships are limited to 50 Awards per year. Eligible fields and Bachelor Degree programs are announced via local media in October each year.
This is a merit-based Scholarship awarded to students who have been admitted into a postgraduate tertiary program in PNG that is approved to accept TESAS Awardees. It will be introduced in 2017.
To be eligible, applicants must have a demonstrated employment record for at least three years.
The Scholarship is for one year only. If the Awardee is studying a program that is longer than one year, they will be automatically considered on a merit-basis for another Postgraduate Scholarship to continue their studies in the following year.
Scholarships are limited to 50 Awards per year. They are announced via local media in October each year.
Full-Fee Paying Students
Students who do not have a TESAS Award are recognized as full-fee paying students by the GoPNG.
Full-fee paying students may be either self-sponsored or sponsored by industries, corporations, provincial governments, foreign governments or other organisations. They meet all the costs of their study through their own personal arrangements.
Benefits Under TESAS
1: Tuition Fee and/ or Board and Lodging Subsidy
Awardees are provided with a financial subsidy for one year to assist meet their tuition fees and/or board and lodging expenses.
2: Travel Allowance
If required, Awardees are provided with financial reimbursement or air tickets to enable return travel between their home and study institution once per year. This includes road, sea or air travel depending on the most economical and timely arrangements that are available.
3: Student Resource Allowance
This is a lump-sum financial contribution towards meeting study equipment and book expenses.
4: Fortnightly Allowance
Awardees are eligible for a small fortnightly allowance designed to assist Awardees meet basic living expenses incurred while studying.
New Scheme Is Needed.
When PNG become signatory to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Achieve Universal Primary Education (Goal No # 2 ) was promoted through the Department of Education. As a result, more students entered the formal education system. The influx of students in was further strengthened by the government’s introduction of PNG government’s Tuition Fee Free policy in 2012 where minimal fees were charged while government catered for school stationaries and operational grants. So, the situation has developed into a triangular shape system where tertiary institutions at the apex has not expanded with a lower education sector which continues to expand. The ripple effect is that Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (DHERST) which as administers TEAS is unable to absorb all students passing out of the different secondary schools and the five National High Schools in the country under TEAS. For DHERST the scheme is simply expensive.
TESAS Awards Cost Factors.
The TEAS Scheme covers student return Airfares, Tuition Fee, Boarding and lodging (including meals), and book allowance. It is important to look at each of these cost factors to really understand the sustainability of each.
Tuition Fee and/ or Board and Lodging Subsidy
Tertiary institutions set their Tuition Fee, Boarding and lodging fees (this includes meals). The tuition fees are set as compulsory fees, while Boarding and Lodging are additional cost for those who want to reside to campus as resident students. Since, the availability of residential facilities is limited in the institutions, 90% of resident students are under TESAS sponsorship. New student intake is dominated by TEAS students because of the legacy system of NATSCHOL and TESAS. Very limited number of new students are taken on as resident student as Private or Corporate sponsored students. This means DHERST as the principal sponsor has to meet whatever price set by each tertiary institution.
In addition, meal services at the tertiary institutions are often provided by contract catering companies. These contracts are mainly based on fixed menu pricing for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If a student miss or skip a meal for any valid reasons, there is no refund or cost credit for future use. The catering contract cost is factored into the boarding and lodging pricing.
The country doesn’t not have a good road network as well as sea passenger ferry system in place. So most travel between provinces is often by air. For example, the four state universities are located in Port Moresby (University of Papua New Guinea), Lae (PNG University of Technology), Goroka (University of Goroka), Rabaul (PNG University of Natural Resources and Environment). The stated also sponsors students attending two church run universities. Divine Word University in Madang and Pacific Adventist University in Port Moresby. The student under TEAS includes fresh intakes, as well as continuing students, those doing 2nd Year, 3rd Year and 4th year studies. Logistical expenses to move students in and out of the institutions from their home provinces at the beginning and end of each academic year can amount to more than a million kina. Most students depending on their home province, makes at least one connection flight. Mainly through Port Moresby because direct inter provincial flights doesn’t exist between many provinces and if there is then then there are limited to few flights a week. There are only two airlines that provide this vital link which is Air Niugini and PNG Air.
For those students who can travel by road or sea, DHERST refunds their fares. Students are required to lodge their travel fare refunds through their institutions.
Student Resource Allowance
Student Resource allowance per student is set by DHERST and paid to the tertiary institutions. Students are allowed to collect stationery and textbooks from the institution’s bookshop to the total value of the allowance. In 2016, amount the was K900.00 per student.
K600 per student in 2016 as per the information in the DHERST Handbook.
Review the cost factors
TESAS review is needed to really look at these cost factors and whether the scheme is sustainable. TEAS has been in operation for 21 (2000-2021) years and seriously need a thorough review. The awards were carried on from NATSCHOL into TESAS. The cost implications are huge as the education system remains in pyramid shape with more and more students passing out lower and secondary education system. Some of these costs can be used to develop the high education sector in terms of more institutions and expansion of existing institutions than consumed by top bracket of students while lots of potential students miss out TESAS scholarship due to rising cost factors.