What was supposed to be a scholarship has allegedly turned into a two-year vacation for a group of 21 Free State students, who have been sponsored by government to study Mandarin in China.
City Press has learnt that the group was recruited by the Free State government in 2014 when Ace Magashule was the province’s premier.
The group flew to China last year under instruction to study Mandarin at Jiangxi University of Technology.
However, sources with intimate knowledge of the scholarship told City Press that the university does not offer a degree in Mandarin.
One disgruntled student painted a gloomy picture of their situation.
The student said they were promised that on their return they would be employed as translators at their respective municipalities.
Some of them are from disadvantaged homes in Excelsior, Vrede, Botshabelo, Sasolburg, Bloemfontein, Theunissen, Dealesville, Hertzogville, Kroonstad and Bethlehem.
The student said they have yet to acquire degrees that would enable them to find jobs in the country.
Last Friday, the source said, the Free State government instructed students to return home in December this year for good – without finishing their studies.
“When they were recruited they were happy and hopeful that their lives were changing for the better. Some had spent years at home without any job or going to school because their families could not afford university fees. When they first got this opportunity they were very excited and hopeful. Now they feel disappointed because they are going back home to the same situation they were hoping to change one day. They are going back home with a non-degree certificate that does not grant them any job,” said the source.
Another source said students feel that their stay in China was like a holiday.
“There is nothing that they are gaining there. They are studying elementary Mandarin which is useful for everyday life in China, but does not guarantee one a job. It’s not a qualification. They cannot become Mandarin translators as government hoped to use them. But government is not accepting their view that they won’t be translators. Even in China, they have been told that they cannot get a job by only passing Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) tests. It’s only when this is accompanied by a qualification of some sort.”
A source said even some of the students who had failed their HSK4 test were currently studying HSK5 along with students who had passed HSK4.
“They were progressed to HSK5 nevertheless, which shows the mismanagement. Last year all students were given certificates and a small function was held as some form of graduation, which actually was just 30 minutes of receiving certificates, taking pictures and going to eat.
“Again what they called a graduation has no value because even people who failed the HSK4 test graduated. All of this happened last year in December because the university was convinced that they were going back home, so it is safe to say that they carried on with HSK5 without any plan, but just to stay there and waste taxpayer’s money.”
From the beginning, sources said, the students’ trip was allegedly marred by problems, including that:
. There was no gala dinner to have a proper send-off involving their parents, which is a norm when such scholarships are sponsored by government;
. The students’ contracts were not the same – some had contracts stating they would be in China for five years, while others for a year;
. They received a R2 500 stipend from government three months after they arrived in China and lived on ¥500 (about R1 000) paid by the university as a living allowance, which was not enough because they had to buy their own electricity and water; and
. That the university was refusing to pay its 5% living allowance to students because it was owed by the Free State government.
During the three months when government failed to pay the stipends, a source said students had to rely on their families to send them the little money they had.
Free State government spokesperson Tiisetso Makhele requested more time to respond despite that questions were sent on Wednesday last week.
China Education Group, a private higher and vocational education group that operates Jiangxi University had not responded to questions at the time of writing.