During the University of Goroka (UOG)’s 24th Graduation on June 29th 2021, the Acting Vice-Chancellor Dr.Teng Waninga revealed that the institution is owed K4 million by students who were registered under the national government’s Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) administered by Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (DHERST). The program was implemented in the beginning of 2020. The Loan Scheme was designed for students to apply for student loans after formally being admitted for study in a certain program at the participating Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
Rollout of Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) by DHERST
After the official announcement of HELP Program with government funding of K60 Million by then DHERST Minister, Hon.Nick kuman, DHERST released numerous media releases as part of the program’s awareness for students and parents. The department also released the timeline of the rollout schedule.
The most notable issue at that time was that the higher education institutions (HEI’s) were under pressure from the DHERST to register students who have school fee problems and are willing apply for HELP. So, the department circulated a Expression of Interest Form and based on that students were enrolled. Majority of them were continuing students because the first-year students were already covered by current DHERST’s TESAS Program through the Grade 12 selections. Then during the duration of the academic year, students were to apply for the Loan.
According to Dr.Waninga, “There is a urgent need to review and improve the HELP. HELP has to be well planned and administered”. The current Minister for DHERST, Hon.Wesley Raminai, who also at the graduation to officiate echoed the same sentiment. “Realized that the program (HELP) may have not being managed so well. It gives loan to students so when they are employed, they should start repaying their loans. Everyone should access HELP”.
So UOG’s decision was to hold back students Degrees/Diploma certificates and release when they settle their outstanding bills.
Issues with Higher Education Loan Program (HELP).
The higher education loan scheme was not something new. It was implemented back in 1999 when Government abolished the NATSCHOL scholarship schemed and introduced Tertiary Education Student Assistance Scheme (TESAS) scholarship. However, the Loan scheme failed due to some important technical and legal frameworks not in place to implement it.
UOG is just one institution but other Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) might have student debts created by this scheme. For parents and students, it’s an anxious wait on how the government will respond to this situation given the following conditions.
- 10 months before this government’s term is over and academic year 2022 will begin just 3 months before the PNG National Elections .
- The DHERST Secretary Fr.Jan Czuba who was instrumental in initiating lots of changes at DHERST including HELP is now under suspension to clear legal challenges he faces in court in which are related to his duties as Secretary of the department. One of them as reported in the media is the procurement of online software to manage the HELP and National Online Selection System.