Students in dire straits

2017-02-22 06:02
An unidentified student from the Free State begging on a street in Belarus with a placard written in the language spoken by the locals. Photo: Supplied

An unidentified student from the Free State begging on a street in Belarus with a placard written in the language spoken by the locals. Photo: Supplied

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Students begging for food in the streets, late stipends, unaccre-dited qualifications and student military drills are some of the allegations made by Free State students studying abroad.

Those in a predicament are candidates enrolled at universities in China and Belarus.

In the 2014 calendar year, the Free State government sent 239 students to China as part of the bursary scheme.

The number has increased over the past two years.

In the wake of the predicament of these students in China, the provincial Department of Education told the Portfolio Committee on Education it would submit a written response about these issues affecting the provincial government’s international bursary scheme.

The department made this undertaking on Wednesday (15/02).

This comes after Mandisa Makhesini, a committee member of the portfolio and a member of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), queried the department enrolling students at universities in China.

This followed allegations that these institutions are apparently not accredited.

Students doing technical programmes might not be accredited by the relevant statutory bodies such as the Engineering Council South Africa (ECSA), Health Professional Council South Africa (HPCSA) and the South African Council of Chartered Accountants (Saica).

Apparently three universities, Wuyishan, Nanjing and Nanchang, which were earmarked to accommodate some 300 students from the Free State, are not in the top 100 in China.

According to Makhesini, students had to move from the three mentioned institutions to 21 other universities across China, apparently using their own funds to study alternative courses.

Some reportedly failed to either meet enrolment requirements or opted to go to universities that offered their chosen courses in English.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, some students studying in China told Express that their monthly stipends of R5 000 were often paid late.

Some students studying in Belarus apparently resorted to begging in the streets for food in December after the late payments of stipends by the Free State government.

They said officials closed shop during December and did not bother paying student stipends.

Makhesini has accused the Department of Education of forcing students into signing a second contract which only allows students to visit home when the head of department sees fit.

It is said that those students who did not want to sign the contract risked losing either their stipends or scholarships.

Apparently the initial contract allowed home visits once a year.

They further accused the provincial government of forcing them to undergo military drills at the National Rural Youth Service Corps (Narysec) at the Thaba Nchu College in August 2016.

The training was meant to discipline them, the students alleged.

Recently, visas of 30 bursary holders who were set to study in Germany this year were rejected by the German embassy.

The students will apparently be shuffled to Turkey to study unspecified short courses for six months.

Tiisetso Makhele, spokesperson of premier Ace Magashule, said students in China were enrolled at accredited institutions.

“The challenge has been on the 57 students studying in the field of Medicine, with regard to their future recognition and registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA),” Makhele said.

Makhele referred all questions to the Department of Education, adding that the department was heading the programme.

Howard Ndaba, spokesperson of the Department of Education, said the department would respond to enquiries after a written submission had been submitted to the portfolio committee.

Ndaba said the department was only overseeing the programme administratively.

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