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Russia: South African students in row over funds

More than 200 South African students studying in Russian universities have been locked out of lecture halls and hostels, thanks to delayed disbursement of their fees and stipends.

The majority of the South Africans reportedly come from poor households and were placed in Russia under the guidance of a Russian company. Photo: Pexels

The ensuing issues are being blamed on the Russian invasion of Ukraine

After attracting the attention of the South Africa’s Russian embassy and the government’s civil society organisations, the administration in Mpumalanga Province – one of the regional governments – is coming under fire for the students’ predicament.

The Mpumalanga Department of Education, which sponsored the students to go to Russia on full scholarships is being blamed for delaying remittance fees and stipends the students have been waiting for since August, resulting in the spectacle that has seen the learners miss classes for days since September.

The majority of the South Africans reportedly come from poor households and were placed in Russia under the guidance of a Russian company – one that was also awarded a contract to place and manage the students’ welfare.

The ensuing issues, which have been difficult for the national government of South Africa, are being blamed on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and a decision by the education department to end the contract with the Russian recruitment agency Racus in South Africa in March.

One of the civil society groups that have been putting pressure on authorities to act, We are South Africans, said they were unable to support the students with stipends due to sanctions against Russia – another issue that has been blamed for the difficulties in sending money.

“As far as we are aware at least 15 out of the 229 have not received their stipends leave alone fees and their parents are not able to assist them either,” Gilbert Martin, founder of We are South Africans and the People of South Africa Foundation, told The PIE News on Wednesday.

“Our students are suffering unnecessarily and our government is dragging its feet”

The Independent Online reported on October 22 that it is now into “week three of the debacle” and despite promises from MPUDBE, “no tuition or rent has been paid, leaving the future of 229 students in jeopardy”.

Despite the denial,  IOL reported that since October 17 some 40 medical students enrolled at the Saratov Chernyshevsky State University alone have been barred from attending classes over outstanding fees arrears.

It also quoted student leader Bahlengiwe Malaza, a fifth year medical student at the university, who confirmed that a delegation from MPUDBE had been at the university and held meetings with its authorities, but no fees had been paid and students had still been kept out of lecture halls.

“The dean met them but he wants the outstanding fees paid. This is so embarrassing for us,” she was quoted saying.

On its part MPUDE claims that it has been doing its best for the students accusing their leadership of exaggerating the situation, and of doing the bidding for Racus after it lost the contract.

On October 20 the department said it had released 28 million Rands to the National government’s Department of International Relations and Co-operation for onward disbursement to 229 students in 11 Russian universities.

“The dean met them but he wants the outstanding fees paid. This is so embarrassing for us”

Spokesperson, Jasper Zwane, however confirmed that the were 229 students who are enrolled in various fields of study including Medicine, Veterinary Science, Engineering, Aeronautical Science, Cyber security and ICT had been affected by the delays in funds disbursement.

He accused the South African government of indifference to the situation and expressed fears that corruption was also to blame for the fiasco.

“We are aware that the government sent a delegation and have only assured the students that the tuition and accommodation fees will be paid but those fees have not been paid. In the meanwhile, our students are suffering unnecessarily and our government is dragging its feet. This has been ongoing since August,” Martin added.

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