Mr Speaker, having worked at the Ministry of Education before, I can very much associate with the Statement that has been made. The Scholarships Secretariat is one of the agencies under the Office of the President.
It is not regulated by the Ministry of Education, except that when it comes to constituting the interview panel to assess the scholarship applicants, a Director at the Ministry of Education would be invited to sit in the interview of the applicants.
The point that has been made about decentralising is a good point. Any agenda that moves towards transparency, openness and equity which would allow everybody to come on board and be able to have a fair access to opportunities, especially for the youth of our country, ought to be encouraged.
Mr Speaker, the only point of departure that I will proceed on is that, we could achieve this decentralisation by using technology. We do not need to use physical structures; we do not need to establish Regional Scholarships Secre- tariats or District Scholarships Secre- tariats. I think what we should encourage the Scholarships Secretariat to do, is to use modern technology.
They should have a very interactive website. Every scholarship available in this country should be made available on the website. It should be open, there should be clear guidelines for applicants, the entry requirements should be spelt out, the dates for examinations or interviews should be put out and then we could bring on board, the West African Examination Council (WAEC) to probably assist.
This is because WAEC has centres in every district in our country. So, using the WAEC structures, we can then allow our young ones, wherever they are in the country, to write the entrance examinations and to go through the initial screening so that when a date is fixed for picking up their— even the admission letters could be printed out from the website that would be used.
So, the only meeting point might be when it is time to travel, they meet a Scholarship Officer, who would then take them through some orientation; what to expect, and then they fly out of the country.
So, we can use technology and that would be cheaper, that would be more cost effective and it can, as it were, also do away with the human influence and interface. This is because when you open regional and district offices, we are still going to have them manned by human beings, probably appointees, or even if they are not political appointees, and they are civil servants or public servants, it is human nature to want to give favours to maybe, a relative, a church member, maybe, somebody from your hometown or village and all of that.
But if we use technology and there is a website where every young person who has completed secondary school or has finished first degree and wants to pursue further studies, can access that website which is open and transparent to all, I think that it would help.
Mr Speaker, I would also want to add, that apart from the Scholarships Secretariat, the GETFund Headquarters also offers scholarships. Before I left the Ministry of Education, the GETFund was offering more scholarships than the
Scholarships Secretariat and most people do not know that.
If one looks at the portfolios, one would notice that the allocation to the GETFund for scholarships is more than what the Scholarships Secretariat offers. These days, the Scholarships Secretariat is only left with bilateral scholarships, scholarships from countries which are offering these opportunities to the Government and people of Ghana.
The point that I think we should make as a House is to encourage more institutions to offer scholarships. Apart from the Scholarships Secretariat and the GETFund which are clearly overburdened and overstretched -- If we talk to them, every year, they are only able to approve less than 10 per cent of qualified scholarship applicants who come before them.
So, we should encourage more institutions such as District Assemblies, Regional Coordinating Councils (RCCs) and corporate Ghana. We should encourage many more people to come on board and offer scholarships to young Ghanaians who are brilliant and needy. That is also a sure way of achieving equity, fairness and openness, so that many more people could be given the opportunity.
Even in our academic institutions, you would see a student who has applied to the University of Ghana from a village that probably, for the past 10 years, is the only one who has qualified to gain admission to the University of Ghana.
Why should that student be treated like every other student? Why should he or she be treated like the student from Alsyd Academy, Association International
School, Akosombo International School or Ghana International School? Why should it be the same?
Can our institutions not have a quota reserved for successful candidates who have come from very challenging backgrounds, and have been able to make the qualifying mark? There can even be affirmative action, so that they can enter the institution and there should be a special dispensation in terms of fees.
So, this issue of scholarships would require a concerted effort from all of us. Even Members of Parliament (MPs) can have a part of our Common Fund focus on scholarships. It should be an all- hands-on-deck approach.
Let us use technology as I have said, because that would be the surest way of removing the human factor, preferences and discretions. These, at the end of the day, would undermine even a decendtra- lised scholarship regime.
Once we use technology and encourage many more academic institutions, corporate Ghana, MPs, churches, the Islamic clergy and other foundations -- everybody should come on board and it should be very open and transparent.
There should be enough education that would penetrate all parts of Ghana, which would allow for Ghanaians living everywhere to know the opportunities available and access them.
Mr Speaker, with these few words, I commend and congratulate the Hon Member who made the Statement.