Panel urges inquiry into TELS

The Fiscal Review Committee says "TELS priorities appear unclear", adding hundreds of millions of public funds appear to have been advanced with little or no prospect of recovery. Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

THERE must be an inquiry into government funding of tertiary education through the TELS and similar schemes, including its impact on the quality of tertiary education, states the Fiscal Review Committee.

The committee says “TELS priorities appear unclear”, adding hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds appears to have been advanced with little or no prospect of recovery and poor planning on how to achieve recovery.

“The facts must be ascertained and made public, together with a summary of lessons learned for better targeted, more effective and equitable support for tertiary education in future,” the report read.

“As of March 31, 2023 TELS had outstanding accounts receivable (loans to be repaid) exceeding $621.8 million representing education loans to 55,410 students.

“Total TELS recoveries (principal and interest) for the years 2018-2022 (including the take-up of a 50 per cent discount on loan balance if the student obtains bank refinancing) have averaged less than $5 million per year.

“It is not for the committee to comment on government manifesto commitments and the committee does not have enough data to comment on the effectiveness of TELS.

“From the committee’s brief inquiries, there appear to have been no clear guidelines on what should be lent and to whom; funds were generously disbursed without a clear strategy on how they would be recovered or any attention to the repayment arrangements of individual borrowers.

“TELS advised the committee that recovery was a matter for the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service (FRCS).

“This appeared to surprise FRCS, which saw itself only as a receiving agency. The lack of clarity on recovery is clearly reflected in the poor recoveries on loans over the last five years, averaging less than $5 million per year.

“In the case of TELS, huge amounts of money appeared to have been spent – but how well was that money directed; what quality education outcomes did it achieve; and how effective has its funding plan been (given that it contemplated hundreds of millions in loans being repaid, which has not occurred)?

“The doing away with TELS also presents a further monetary challenge to the Government on how it will fund tertiary education in the future, particularly for students who do not have the means to pay for it.”

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