Limited spaces for Grade 12 at Tertiary Institutions: When will it stop?

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

At the end of every year, the most anxious moment for parents and Grade 12 students is the DHERST selection of students to tertiary institutions. Last year 2022, The National newspaper ran the following headline in the morning after the DHERST National Online Application System (NOAS) to select the students for tertiary institutions was done by the Minister for Higher Education Research, Science and Technology, Hon. Don Polye on Wednesday 22nd December 2022.

“Limited spaces in higher education leave a third of Grade 12s without a definite direction. 10,000 left by the wayside”

The following are the reported mathematical figures to put the situation into perspective.

31,000 Grade 12 students sat for the National Grade 12 Examination

27, 902 applications filed through NOAS

11, 126 selected according to their program choices filed through NOAS

16,777 are eligible and could be considered through the National Admission Pool (NAP)

8,335 Government funded spaces available in the 62 institutions.

DHERST’s dual role in the Higher Education Sector

Parents and students need to be clear on the dual role Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (DHERST). First role of DHERST is that it is the department in charge of all Higher Educational Institutions. This essentially covers whole the Higher Education Sector. The elementary, primary and secondary education sector comes under the National Department of Education (NDoE). DHERST is responsible for the government policy direction and implementation of all matters relating to higher education sector in the country. With the recent Higher Education Amendments Acts of parliament in 2002, DHERST, is also responsible for monitoring and establishment of private training institutions that offer certificate or Diploma programs.

Read more about the Higher Education Amendment-DHERST Takes full control of institutions

Second role of DHERST is to administer the Government Tertiary Education Assistance Scholarship Scheme (TESAS) and Higher Education Loan Program (HELP).

First role is focused more towards serving the needs and issues of the Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) and reporting to the National Government on higher education sector policy directives and implementation of government polices.

The second role is managing both the Tertiary Education Study Assistance Scheme (TESAS) scholarship and the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) student loan programs for the recipients or beneficiaries (students). Both TESAS and HELP covers students in the 62 government institutions (Universities, Teachers Colleges, Nursing Colleges, Technical and Business Colleges) in the country from 1st Year to Final Year of study.

TESAS Scholarship mainly covers the following

  • Tuition and lodging fees
  • Single Return Airfares from student’s home province to the place where institution is located
  • Book allowance
  • Semester-living allowance.

HELP is targeted towards students who are enrolled as Self/Private sponsored students.

Problem of Limited Space at the Higher Learning Institutions

The problem of limited space at higher learning institutions is often portrayed as a responsibility of the particular institutions. For example, the DHERST Minister, Hon. Don Polye’s address during the selection for 2023 academic year, he said;

“This is not because you (student missing out on selection) were ineligible, you are eligible, you can get into one of the institutions, but the challenge we have is very limited spaces at higher education”

To fully understand this “challenge “of limited spaces at higher learning institutions, one has to understanding the funding model of Higher Learning Institutions. Under the current arrangements, the tertiary institutions sources of funds include the following

  • Allocation from the National Government Budget
  • Student Tuition Fees
  • Grants from Governments, Donor Agencies, Corporate bodies, Foreign Government Aids and etc.
  • Internal Revenue sources-Venue Hires, Consultancy services and etc

National Government Budgetary Allocation

This funding usually covers for the operating recurrent expenditures of the institutions. Example staff wages bills, utility bills like electricity and sanitation, maintenance of existing infrastructure and equipment and etc.

Student Tuition Fees

Almost 90% of the total students enrolled in all 62 institutions is covered by TESAS Scholarship by DHERST. This is because, TESAS covers for students from 1st year to final year students in all programs at the institution. The other 10% of the student population are  under either Private or corporate sponsorship. This means that respective institutions will factor the unit cost of maintaining a student for the whole academic year and set their fees.

The fees set by the respective institutions are higher than what TESAS can cover. So the students on TESAS Scholarship pays the balance of total fees charged.

Fees paid by DHERST includes the boarding and lodging and book/equipment allowances.

DHERST normally waits for institutions to complete the student registrations and then based on the registered student numbers, they release the funding to institutions. This often takes time and institutions have to commence the academic year regardless of whether DHERST payment is paid on time or delayed.

DHERST payment is often done on either by  semester or quarterly basis to institutions.

Whenever, there is a delay in release of funding from DHERST to the institutions, they  are left with no option but to continue the academic year. This means, sourcing funding from other funding sources.

Grants from other organizations

Sourcing development grants from other sources like Donor Agencies, Foreign Government Aids, Corporate bodies, very much depends on the institution’s capacity to do the necessary paper work and establish relationships with respective partner organizations to get the funding.

Internal Revenue measures

This represents a very small portion of the overall funds coming into the institutions. This includes, corporate sponsorships, venue hires, fees from consultancy services, research partnerships and etc.

Legacy Spacing issue at Tertiary Institutions

The issue of limited spaces at tertiary institutions has very important cost factors for administrators of tertiary institutions. Almost all the institutions in the country have one important resource to create the environment to increase space. That is land. Good example is University of Papua New Guinea and University of Technology in Lae. Both have campuses huge campus with ample land for expansion. Also, the teachers and nursing college campuses have land. Given that the institutions have land, then the issue is getting the infrastructures in place.  This includes, lecture rooms, student living quarters, office spaces for additional staff and renovation and maintenance of existing facilities.

Infrastructure development requires funding and as such DHERST to really look at the funding and business models of higher institutions for infrastructure development.

DHERST also need to review the TESAS Scholarship which is now  over 25 years old now and cut certain benefits in the program. For example, student airfares can be offloaded to parents and divert the amount for airfares and increase the scholarship numbers.

Acting Secretary for DHERST Dr. Francis Hualupmomi has told the media during the 2023 selections that K40 million allocated from the National Budget as “insufficient for student’s expenses” in 2023.

It’s about time DHERST need  to look reviewing the TESAS and HELP programs particularly in terms of sustainability in the long run and assist the tertiary institutions to improve their capacity to source funds for infrastructure developments.

Core of the issue of  “limited space “is an infrastructure issue. Local MPS are always aware that education is at the heart of parents and they will continue to fund and increase secondary schools at their districts and provinces. Whatever happens at the tertiary institution is in terms of infrastructure development is the responsbility of DHERST, the National Government and the respective institutions. Unless resources and attention is given to the status of infrastructure in the tertiary institutions, the “limited space”  issue will continue.

Read the need to review TESAS Scholarship commentary. DHERST TESAS Scholarship Is In Operation for 21 Years-Needs A Review