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Russia: deal could solve South African row

A group of Russian universities hosting more than 200 South African students at the centre of a fees and stipends row through most of 2022, have agreed to start dealing directly with South African authorities to settle dues worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Mpumalanga Department of Education, which sponsored the students to go to Russia on full scholarships, was being blamed for delaying remittance fees. Photo: pexels

The move will see the institutions sidestep education agency Racus which had a contract for handling the students’ affairs.

The universities, according to authorities in South Africa, have agreed to start receiving the dues without the involvement of Racus, in what could potentially bring an end to the problem that has persisted since August last year. The issue has jeopardised studies and welfare of the foreign students.

Problems for the students enrolled in at least nine Russian universities under sponsorship of Mpumalanga Provincial government started after the latter cancelled the Racus contract last year, opting to directly engage the universities.

The universities however refused to directly deal with the South Africans, resulting in the learners being denied access to classes as well as accommodation in one of the most embarrassing debacles involving foreign students.

Not even the intervention of Mpumalanga prime minister Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane who visited the country late last year could convince the universities, to budge as they insisted that the South Africans had a valid contract with Racus, the study in the Russia consortium of state universities.

The universities changed the position from late last December indicating their will to take arrears owed directly from the South Africans, the country’s media reports say.

As a result, some of the universities including Moscow Aviation Institute, Saratov State Agrarian University, Saratov State Medical University, North-Caucasus Federal University, South-Russian State Polytechnic University and Lobachevsky State University started sending invoices to the students, reports quoting a spokesperson of the regional government Jasper Zwane indicated.

Negotiations with other universities that had not agreed to invoice the South Africans include the state medical universities of Astrakhan and Kursk and the Privolzhsky Research Medical University, the official said.

“Tambov University, which has 74 students, sent a letter on December 24 last year, confirming their intention to consider the request to submit invoices directly to the department. As soon as the invoices are received, they will be processed with the necessary urgency,” he noted.

The South African embassy in Russia will be settling outstanding payments, and so far an amount of Rands 28 million an equivalent US$1.6million has been processed settling tuition and accommodation fees for at least 105 students, the spokesman added.

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