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Scholarships bonanza Part 3: How some are struggling while others received double double

Roberta Nti (not her real name) thought she had it all figured out financially when she was awarded a scholarship to study for a Master’s Degree in the United Kingdom (UK).

She arrived at the university in London full of hope. The receipt of her first stipend of about 2,000 pounds from the Scholarship Secretariat helped her to settle in a bit. She was told she would be receiving more of such stipends every quarter. But that was it. The first was the last.

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“I thought I was going to focus only on my studies, have my stipend regularly to take care of my needs, but now it’s hell,” Roberta said.

“The stress I had to endure before my fees were paid, it took the school shutting me out of their system and sending threatening messages to report me to the Home Office before the Scholarship Secretariat paid [my fees].”

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Having paid her fees, the Scholarship Secretariat stopped providing for her living expenses in a city as expensive as London.  With no stipends to cater for her needs, she started working as a cleaner, under what she described as “difficult conditions.”

She earned about 800 pounds per month from the cleaning job. But she spent much of this (680 pounds) on rent. She had to fall on remittances from her parents back home and loans from her friends to survive.

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Now Roberta owes more than 5,000 pounds. As she struggles to pay off her debts, she is acutely aware that other government of Ghana scholarship beneficiaries in the UK have had it worse.

“A girl was nearly raped because she went living with a male friend because she didn’t have money to rent because the stipend was not coming,” she told The Fourth Estate.

“People are suffering. Students are depressed, some have been chased out of their accommodations and have been locked out of their school portals. But who is going to hear us?”

While Roberta and her peers continue to bear the mental torture of unpaid fees and stipends, The Fourth Estate has found that some of their compatriots received multiple scholarships from the Scholarship Secretariat.

After receiving numerous complaints from scholarship applicants, The Fourth Estate asked in March 2021 for data from the Scholarship Secretariat on those who had been awarded scholarships in 2019 and 2020.

The Secretariat initially refused to grant the request, claiming the data was confidential. But the Right to Information (RTI) Commission ordered that personal information should be redacted and the data released. The Commission based its ruling on the premise that the scholarships were funded with public money.

The Scholarship Secretariat’s response to the RTI request showed that it had spent GHS237.5 million and GHS200 million in 2019 and 2020, respectively, on both foreign and local scholarships.

The Scholarship Secretariat, an agency under the Office of the President, was established in 1960 with the primary purpose of providing local and foreign scholarships to academically gifted but financially needy students. Following the country’s liberation from colonial rule, the Nkrumah administration set up scholarship programmes as a means to incentivise and attract top talents to bolster the nation’s workforce by assisting citizens who lacked the financial means to fund their education.

A major source of funding for the Scholarship Secretariat is the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund). Section 2.2(b) of the GETFund Act requires the Scholarship Secretariat to allocate funds to support “gifted but needy students for studies in second cycle and accredited tertiary institutions in Ghana.”

In recent years, however, the secretariat has been criticised for allegedly perpetuating a system of patronage, often overlooking deserving applicants in favour of those with political and high society connections.

For the underprivileged Ghanaians who do secure scholarships, many, like Roberta , are left stranded and frustrated in foreign lands. Unable to fend for themselves, they are often compelled to take on low-paying jobs to be able to fend for themselves as they abandon the courses they travelled abroad for.

The situation is, however, different for the privileged and well-connected. Their fees get paid on time and some even go on to secure more government of Ghana scholarships, while their underprivileged compatriots struggle – either for a first scholarship or for their tuition and stipends to be paid on time to enable them focus on their studies.

Multiple scholarships

The data we received from the Scholarship Secretariat showed that at least 17 people received multiple scholarships which allowed them to pursue different programmes in two consecutive years or in a single year.

At least 10 individuals received multiple scholarships in consecutive years (2019 and 2020), with amounts ranging from GBP13,250 to GBP55,000 per school to cover tuition and living expenses. Seven others were granted two different scholarships within the same year, either in different countries or in the same country.

The Fourth Estate confirmed that a beneficiary, Sidney Osei-Owusu, for instance, received GBP28,330 in 2019 to cover his living expenses and tuition for an MSc degree in Management at the Brunel University in London. In 2020, the secretariat again paid GBP15,750 for his MBA in Business Administration at the University of the West of England.

Another beneficiary, Kieve Kuuku Kittoe, received USD38,475 for an MA in Design Management at Savanna College in the United States in 2019. The following year, Mr Kittoe also received GBP14,500 for an MA in Visual Communication at the University of Derby in the UK.

When The Fourth Estate pointed out concerns about double scholarships to some beneficiaries while other deserving applicants were denied, Dr Kingsley Agyemang, the Registrar of the Scholarship Secretariat, claimed that those who received the double scholarships pursued complementary courses. He insisted that the number of such double beneficiaries was insignificant.

Dr Agyemang also attributed some of the multiple scholarships to “administrative error” on the part of some staff of the secretariat who are accustomed to manual record-keeping.

However, Prof Peter Quartey, the Director of the Institute of Statistical Social and Economic Research (ISSER) noted that such multiple awards could only be justified if they were for courses that could not be undertaken in Ghana or for specialties in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with stringent requirements for beneficiaries to return to the country to pass on their knowledge and skills.

Scholarship beneficiaries are not returning

Roberta Nti, who went to study in the UK on a government of Ghana scholarship, ended up fending for herself in the last one year. She remains in the UK, broke and in debt. She told The Fourth Estate that she cannot afford a plane ticket and so she has no immediate plans of returning to Ghana after graduating in January.

She hopes to get a post-study permit which would allow her to work and pay off debts before she thinks about what next to do with her life.

“It is difficult for my parents. They have to change money from cedis to pounds in these difficult times. My mum is complaining about how difficult things are back home,” she said.

There are many Ghana government scholarship beneficiaries in several western nations like Roberta. It is hard to tell how many of them are refusing to return because of financial difficulties and how many have just decided that after using government support to gain some foothold in a developed country, Ghana is no longer good for them.

But from our data analysis, there are at least 104 government scholarship beneficiaries (from 2019 and 2020) who have not returned to Ghana after their studies abroad, although they had signed bonds to do so. Some of these beneficiaries have drifted from their fields of study into other areas of work.

Andrew Asafo-Agyei graduated from the University of Brunel in 2020 with an MA in International Relations. His education cost the Ghanaian taxpayer GBP29,030 in government scholarship funding.  But he is now working in the United Kingdom as mental health officer.

With a GBP28,000 scholarship from the Scholarship Secretariat, Barima Kwame Adu Gyimah graduated from the University of Buckingham with a BA in Communications, Media, and Journalism in 2022. He currently serves as a retention sales executive in the UK.

Similarly, Michael Yiadom Adarkwa, who received GBP13,260 in state sponsorship and completed his studies at the Solent University in the UK in 2021, now works as an assistant residence manager. He has an MA in Public Relations and Multimedia Communications.

We also found that the Scholarship Secretariat does not have systems in place to ensure that beneficiaries return to Ghana.

Dr Agyemang told The Fourth Estate that while some of the beneficiaries had the blessings of the Secretariat because they had secured jobs which could give them valuable work experience, others simply have refused to return.

He admitted that enforcement is a major challenge but was quick to add that even those beneficiaries who have failed to return are contributing to the Ghanaian economy with their remittances.

However, Prof Quartey insists that there’s a way to compel beneficiaries to return as the rationale for awarding government scholarships is to train people to pass on their knowledge and skills to other Ghanaians.
He said the University of Ghana has a system which makes guarantors pay financial penalties for scholarship beneficiaries who fail to return home.

Source: The Fourth Estate

DISCLAIMER: TIGPost.co will not be liable for any inaccuracies contained in this article. The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author’s, and do not reflect those of The Independent Ghana.

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