eDiscussion on funding education: the role of scholarships, bursaries and other mechanism


Financial exclusion from education is an issue across the Commonwealth, with education and its associated costs prohibiting individuals from accessing education. While progress has been made, such as the near-universal provision of basic free education (2015 Global Monitoring Report), user costs remain a significant barrier to education access. These costs often differentially affect lower income families and learners, feeding a cycle of disadvantage, and are a key issue in addressing equitable access to quality education.

eDiscussion through the Education Hub Community of Practice

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ADEA-logoThis e-discussion focuses on financing streams for the individual learner, by way of scholarships, bursaries and other similar financial supports and systems available; in line with the overall goal of universal access to education. Financial aids such as these offer an alternative stream into education within limited resource and constricted budgetary environments, and represent an opportunity for those that may otherwise be financially excluded from the education system. 

At the 19th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers, ministers voiced their agreed support of continued and expanded access to scholarships, and the importance of “ensuring that [they] are awarded to the most able, but meet the needs of the most deserving”, as articulated in the Nassau Declaration. Target 4.b of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 similarly echoes the need to substantially expand the number of scholarships available, particularly to those who are most likely to be financially excluded. A growing body of research exists around the cost-effectiveness of investing in education, not only for economic, but social and environmental benefit, and achievement of the SDGs. Attention is also being paid to the role of state and non-state actors in financing education, recurrent capital costs and exploring alternative financing options (including scholarships, bursaries, loans and grants).

This discussion was moderated by Chemwi Mutiwanyuka, a Programme Analyst with the ADEA Working Group on Education Management and Policy Support, with seven years progressive education management experience, a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Psychology and a Masters in Business Administration. Published author on topics covering, education, social entrepreneurship and citizenship.

Key points:

  • There is a need for a variety of funding options to be available to ensure increased and equitable access.
  • Different funding mechanisms have different weaknesses and strengths, and further development should be explored within the context of the country and education system.
  • Collective responsibility exists to ensuring access to financing, not just of government.
  • No one-size-fits all solution exists, whilst expanded access and increased availability and variety of financing options must consider long-term sustainability, efficiency, effectiveness, flexibility and resilience.
  • Particular focus needs to be placed to those most in need of financial assistance to ensure support and equitable access. Raising awareness and providing support is critical to increasing access to those who are disadvantaged, marginalised and/or at risk of missing out.
  • Government not only has a financial role to play, but an enabling and coordinating role in developing other funding sources and mechanisms.
  • Greater collaboration is needed to support cross-border funding and student mobility.

Further Resources

Commonwealth & other Case Studies

Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (from Peter Williams, United Kingdom)

“The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) is an international programme under which Commonwealth countries offer scholarships and fellowships to citizens of other member states. The CSFP was established by Commonwealth education ministers at their first conference in 1959. Since then, Commonwealth Scholarships have become one of the most prestigious and best-known international scholarship schemes. Over 30,000 individuals have benefited.” https://www.acu.ac.uk/scholarships/commonwealth-scholarships/about-csfp

Higher Education Loan Program, Australia (from the Moderator, Chemwi Mutiganyuka)
“The Commonwealth Government’s Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) provides income-contingent loans to Australian students enrolling in eligible university courses. HELP aligns the costs of higher education with its benefactors. The alignment of public and private costs with public and private benefits lays the foundation for an efficient and fiscally prudent higher education funding regime. Repayments are connect to a graduate’s ability to pay, not the amount of the loan, or its age. If a graduate loses [their] job or takes time out of work, no repayments are required.” Policy Note: HELP: Understanding Australia’s system of income-contingent student loans

Scholarships Focal Point, Mauritius Ministry of Education and Human Resources, Tertiary Education and Scientific Research (from Ricaud Auckbur, Mauritius)
The Ministry has set-up a focal department within the Ministry to ensure “effective and fair dissemnination to the public through spoken, written and electronic media.” http://ministry-education.govmu.org/English/scholarships/Pages/default.aspx

Higher Education Loans Board, Kenya (Charles Ringera, Kenya)
The Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) was established by an Act of Parliament CAP 213A in 1995. The aim of the Board is to provide competitive financing to all Kenyans pursuing higher education. The mandate of HELP includes: 1) disburse loans and bursaries to needy Kenyan students pursuing higher education; b) recover all outstanding university loans given to Kenyan students since 1974; c) establish a viable and sustainable revolving fund; and, d) to source for funds to disburse to Kenyans pursuing Higher Education.

Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM), India (from the Moderator, Chemwi Mutiganyuka)
The Government of India has developed SWAYAM to offer free, open, online education in India via a Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) to broaden access to cost-effective and quality education within the country. Ms Mutiganyuka notes that SWAYAM provides a feasible example of scaling up access to MOOCs.

ERNWACA Grants Scheme (from Yves Benett, United Kingdom)

Related Resources
From Charles Ringera, Kenya
Report to the Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Higher Education Loans Board
Sustainable Funding Higher Education, Kenya Higher Education Loans Board

From Nnenna Eluwa, Nigeria
Agboola, B., & Ofoegbu, F., 2010, Access to University Education in Nigeria: A Review, University of Benin.
Daudia, R., 2007, ‘Female education and Nigeria’s development strategies: Lots of talk, little action’, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3, 461-479.
Gender in Nigeria Report 2012: Improving the Lives of Girls and Women in Nigeria, British Council Nigeria, 2nd Edition, 2012.
Uzochukwu, B., Onwujekwe, O., Uguru, N., Ughasoro, M., & Ezeoke, O., 2010, ‘Willingness to pay for rapid diagnostic and treatment of malaria in Southeast Nigeria: Ex post and ex ante’, International Journal for Equity in Health, Vol. 9, No. 1.
The World Bank, 2004, School Education in Nigeria: Preparing for Universal Basic Education, Africa Region Human Development Series, No. 53, The World Bank, Washington.

From the Moderator, Chemwi Mutiqanyuka
Guille, M., ‘Student loans: a solution for Europe?’ European Journal of Education, 12/2002.
Looney, A., and Constantine, Y., ‘A crisis in student loans? How changes in the characteristics of borrowers and in the institutions they attend contributed to rising loan defaults’. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, BPEA Conference Draft, September 10-11, 2015.
Mohadeb, P., Higher Education in Mauritius: An Analysis of Future Financial Sustainability. Napier University thesis submission, May 2013.
Montanini, M., ‘Supporting tertiary education, enhancing economic development: Strategies for effective higher education funding in Sub-Saharan Africa’. Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, Working Paper, 49/May 2013.
Policy Note: HELP: Understanding Australia’s system of income-contingent student loans. May 2014. Group of Eight Australia.

From The Facilitation Team, Education Hub

Draft Policy Brief: A sustainable, cost-effective approach to delivering education policy for the SDGs, Commonwealth Secretariat
SDGs & Education: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education
Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP): https://www.acu.ac.uk/focus-areas/scholarships/commonwealth-scholarships/

Ongoing topic discussion

Financial exclusion from education is an issue across the Commonwealth, with education and its associated costs prohibiting individuals from accessing education. Please send us your good experiences of how to reduce barriers to education through scholarships and bursaries.