Dar es Salaam. The dreams of thousands of students wishing to pursue specialized courses such as medicine and health sciences are being dashed annually as the number of applicants steadily increases, The Citizen has learned.
The government through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has been encouraging students to take up science subjects, including health sciences, to enable the nation to have sufficient human resources in critical sectors.
As part of its efforts, the government has allocated Sh3 billion in scholarship grants for the 500 best students in science subjects in the 2022/23 financial year.
“All students who excelled in science subjects in the 2022 Advanced Certificate of Secondary Education Examination will be offered full scholarships by the government,” Education minister Adolf Mkenda said recently.
This is meant to encourage more students to take up science subjects, and bolster key sectors such as health, agriculture, energy, water and education.
There have been complaints about inadequate numbers of health experts in the country, especially specialist doctors, despite Tanzania wishing to promote itself as a regional medical tourism hub.
The free education policy has in recent years doubled the number of students who qualify to join higher education institutions.
Although recent data from the Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) shows that more students still prefer education and business programs followed by medicine and health sciences, experts believe that the number of students who want to study science, including health sciences, is increasing at a breathtaking pace.
However, limited capacity in colleges compared to demand for places is dashing the dreams of most applicants as many miss out, and have no option but to switch courses and programs.
For example, the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas) Students Organization said in a recent statement that a total of 27,540 students applied for various programs in the first round of applications ahead of the 2022/23 academic year.
Some 19,287 applicants were eligible for selection, but the institution could only admit a maximum of 800 students in that particular round, although 866 students were eventually selected, meaning that 18,421 applicants missed out.
The statement signed by the organisation’s president, Mr Erick Enock, was issued after the August 17 Senate meeting that discussed the selection of first-round applicants.
“The president’s office hereby congratulates all those who have been selected to join Muhas. As for those who were not selected, we urge them to try their luck in the second application window,” the statement said.
Although there is another opportunity, there are those who did not apply in the first window, and who are likely to do so in the second, thus making competition for places even tougher.
According to experts, despite the fact that there is high enthusiasm among students to study science, including health, the capacity of institutions offering the relevant programs is limited.
“These challenges should have been addressed as soon as the government announced its free education policy. Students who benefited from the policy now want to join higher education institutions whose capacity has either remained the same, or increased only marginally,” said Dr Amon Ishengoma, an education expert based in Mwanza.
He added that many students, especially those who choose science combinations, know that their future is potentially brighter, and that is why they are scrambling for the few available places in colleges.
“It is hardly surprising that the number of students wishing to pursue science courses, especially medicine, is increasing sharply because many parents are encouraging their children to study science, and schools are strving to make sure that science students succeed. Many, however, end up being disappointed, and opt for other programs,” Dr Ishengoma said.
For her part, Dr Felista Mushi, a medical doctor, said the pace of training health professionals was still low because of existing challenges, including an acute shortage of qualified trainers, accommodation and financing.
“Don’t be surprised to see Muhas selecting that number. It may seem small, but Muhas wants the number of enrolled students to be commensurate with the number of available trainers and facilities,” she said.
The Higher Education for Economic Transformation (Heet) program funded by the World Bank to the tune of $425 million is meant to ensure that higher education institutions expand their intake capacity by building campuses throughout the country.