Minister apologises as scholarship payment still delayed

The Ministry of Education and Training says its scholarship unit has insufficient funds to pay university student scholarship course fees and allowances.

The Minister of Education, Seule Simeon, made the admission this week and apologised to students and their parents about long delays in the Government’s payment of fees and allowances.

The delay in scholarship payments is causing economic hardship for students, including students studying overseas, some of whom who have not received allowances since December.

A Ni-Vanuatu lecturer at the Laucala University of the South Pacific in Fiji, Robson Tigona, says delays in payments to students living overseas, are causing worry and hardship.

He says the students’ studies are being affected and some “go hungry because they have no money to buy food”.

As the payment delays continue, Ni-Vanuatu workers from the Mind Pearl International Call Centre in Suva have provided food donations to Ni-Vanuatu students on the Laucala campus.

Prime Minister, Bob Loughman, instructed the Deputy Prime Minister, Ismael Kalsakau, to meet the Education and Finance and Economic Management Ministers, to resolve the issue.

Mr Kalsakau says he wants students’ complaints dealt with by the end of this week and solutions in place so the issues do not arise again in the future.

The Education Minister says despite the challenges, the ministry is working hard to ensure Government sponsored students receive their allowances this week.

Mr Seule wants eligible students awaiting Government payments to submit their banking details to the scholarship unit before 23 April so the unit can process their allowances.

Each year, the Government allocates 800 million vatu to fund scholarships for more than 500 Vanuatu students.

This year, with additional support from the Vanuatu National Provident Fund, 2039 scholarships were awarded to students.

Of the 2039 students, 1400 were students continuing studies in universities and 639 were first year scholarships students.

Mr Seule says there are 447 students who were entitled to receive allowances from the beginning of the year, who still need to be paid.

The Minister says amongst these 447 students – 53 are first year scholarship students; 46 have changed their courses; and 13 are taking up pilot studies.

Another six students are on extension courses after having re-registered with the University of the South Pacific after the Vanuatu National Provident Fund warned them about failing courses.

The Vanuatu National Provident Fund is responsible for paying for the fees of another 285 students.

The Education Minister says the fund has refused to sponsor the studies of another 44 students who have re-registered at the Laucala University of the South Pacific in Fiji after failing their courses.

As well as the scholarship unit funding shortfalls, the Deputy Prime Minister says he is also concerned about “serious issues” in the allocation of scholarships.

Mr Kalsakau says the Government does not understand why some students who do not meet scholarship criteria have been awarded scholarships this year.

He says the Government needs to do more work to ensure the processes involved in awarding and paying for scholarships are working properly.

Responding to the delays in scholarship payments, Opposition Leader, Ralph Regenvanu, has called on the Government to “take action and support its people during the COVID pandemic”.

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