Fear, despair, disgrace; scholarship students abroad lament neglect
With the world being made more compact by technology, the desperation of some students on government scholarships worldwide is being given a regular voice and wider reach.
Their dire situation is seemingly compounded by a sense of neglect they feel for what they describe as their humanitarian crisis after being without stipends since the first few months of 2017.
For some of them, it is no longer about being in the right frame of mind for academic work, but finding shelter and food on a daily basis.
Sending out petitions to media houses and setting up social media accounts to highlight their plight has taken them only so far, with a few retweets and shares slowly being swallowed up by things deemed more important by the Ghanaian public.
Some of the students, who wished to remain anonymous reached out to citifmonline.com and vented their frustrations, expressed their despair and lamented government’s unconcern.
As a student studying in Morocco noted, the government of the students’ host country takes care of all fees in relation to the university.
“They [the government of Morocco] are doing their part diligently. We don’t have any problem with them. They are playing their part very well,” the student said.
The scholarship beneficiaries in that country expect $250 dollars a month from the Ghana government for upkeep, and that is the only money they have access to for living expenses, as they are not allowed to work, per their agreement with the Morocco government.
“The only source of income we have is the money that comes from the government of Ghana, which is $250 a month and $300 for health allowance per year, and then the book allowance. So that is what we rely on and when it doesn’t come, it puts us in this particular situation.”
Since February 2017, this student said no support has come from the government, and it is pushing them to the edge, with some of their colleagues tinkering with depression.
“…People are suffering. It is not a joke. We are not trying to exaggerate things. We are just telling the truth. People are suffering, people are [suffering] depression and you don’t know what may happen to a depressed student. You don’t know what they may do to themselves.”
The situation is the same, if not worse, for this student from Russia who said he was recently kicked out of his hostel and is now staying with a friend.
Students in Russia are studying in schools that include the Tyumen Industrial University, Rostov State University of Economics, the Rostov State Medical University, the Belgorod State University, the St Petersburg State Pediatrics Medical University among others.
To enforce a perceived culture of neglect from the government, he said Russian students who graduated in 2016 were on the verge of deportation till they decided to protest the government’s neglect at the Russian Embassy.
The government eventually sent money for the graduates, who were owed for 11 months alongside a shipping allowance and money for plane tickets.
But the remaining students have been left by the government to fend for themselves and they dread the prospect of falling sick because it could lead to them being deported.
“We have no insurance policy. If I should fall sick and anything happens to me and I have to go to the hospital, once I step there and they ask me and if I don’t have insurance, I will be deported there and then. That is the law,” this student said.
Like the situation in Morocco, the students can’t work on the side to sustain themselves because if they are caught doing an illegal job they will also be deported.
The life without stipends has been a little easier for Christian students in Russia, who get some relief by way of charity from the churches they attend, according to this student who spoke to citifmonline.com.
“The Christians, they go to church on Sunday and the church members actually buy foodstuffs like potatoes, tomatoes, pepper, oil and all that for them for the week. So they actually depend on this stuff for seven days and on Sunday, they go back to the church, and if any Good Samaritan happens to acknowledge their plight, they buy food for them again.”
Ghana disgracing itself
This has been the cycle for this student for years since he came to Russia, and his life has revolved around “ feeding and money issues.”
Because of this, he feels the government of Ghana is just soiling the country’s image abroad.
“At the end of the day, Ghana is being made to look bad to Russia and the rest of the world. There are other countries, with struggles of their own with similar agreements, but they don’t leave their students to contend with hunger on a daily basis,” he said.
“Ghana is really disgracing itself in Russia. Now everybody knows that Ghanaian students don’t pay their hostel fees in time. They don’t do their medical reports in time,” this student said, echoing the sentiment on the ground.
Beyond all this, some of the students are left dumbfounded by the fact the government continues to bring new students to come and join in their “suffering”.
For them, it is not about settling them and alleviating their plight, but making sure the students that benefit scholarships in the future do not go through this cycle.
“We are not saying this for them to send us the money just for the 11 months they have not paid us. They should pay us all the debts that they are owing us and continue to make payments so that people don’t come and suffer.”
The government has acknowledged the plight of the students abroad, with the new Registrar of the Scholarships Secretariat, Kingsley Agyeman, giving the assurances that there are plans to pay out stipends by the end of November 2017.
“Before the end of next month [November] specifically those in Russia, Cuba and others, the nine months outstanding [stipends] will be paid up to six months.”
Aside from this, he said the stipends would begin to come “very regularly,” in response to the appeal for consistency from some of the students abroad.
The situation for the Secretariat is more nuanced because the New Patriotic Party government came to meet a debt overhang of about GHc 285 million, according to Mr. Agyeman.
But he was keen to note that “this has been cleared, and the outstanding now stands at just about GHc85 million.”
About 70 percent of the debt had to do with scholarship commitments in Ghana which were given priority.
“Even with the GHc 85 million, some funding has been secured, and we hope that by the end of [November], students’ stipends and other allowances for foreign scholarships will be paid to them,” he added.