PESHAWAR: Winning a scholarship to pursue higher education abroad is a dream of every Pakistani student out there, especially if they come from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.
And when a bunch of deserving students from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) were awarded scholarships by the provincial government to study in China, they hoped it would turn out to be a life-changing opportunity for them. However, little did they know about the challenges that were in store for them once they would start their academic journey.
According to details obtained by The Express Tribune, students from K-P who went to the Shandong Normal University in China under K-P’s Chief Minister Scholarship Programme in September last year are facing severe financial problems as the provincial government has not released funds to the Chinese universities that accepted foreign students on a fully-funded scholarship.
Protesting the move, 32 scholarship recipients have sent a signed application, along with video messages, to K-P’s Higher Education Department and expressed their grievances, stating that neither the government paid their tuition fee to the Chinese University, nor released students’ monthly stipend.
The students complained that the Frontier Education Foundation (FEF), which launched the scholarship scheme, did not follow the memorandum of understanding (MoU) that it signed with the Shandong Normal University.
Students said that the FEF earlier agreed to bear all the expenses of the programme. Later, however, they changed their stance and said that the scholarship does not cover the first semester of the university, which officially started in September 2019.
“We began our programme in September 2019 and for the past four months, our families have been sending us money to sustain ourselves in China. Now, however, it has become impossible to survive,” said Zeeshan Khattak, a student from Karak who is studying at the Shandong Normal University under the so-called scholarship scheme, said.
“We went to China thinking that we have been awarded a full scholarship but after reaching there, the FEF suddenly refused to fund us.”
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He added that even initially, students had to pay their visa and hostel fees themselves thinking that the costs would be reimbursed later.
Speaking via the video message, Laiba Khan, a student hailing from Haripur, said that she was very happy for being chosen for the scholarship scheme, but her dreams were shattered once she started the programme.
“Ever since I came to China, I have been facing a severe financial crisis so much so that I feel like dropping out of the programme and returning home because I am fed up of borrowing money from my friends and family to make ends meet,” she told The Express Tribune.
Similarly, Muhammad Idrees Wazir from South Waziristan said that the situation has become very difficult for him because the living cost in China is very high.
“We tried to contact the FEF but instead of solving our issue, they told us off,” he said. “Owing to the ongoing situation, two students have already left China because their families could not afford to send any money to them. Many others are fearing a similar fate.”
Wazir added that before starting the programme, students were told that the provincial government will pay them a monthly stipend of RMB3,000 (approximately Rs68,000) to master’s students, while those pursuing a doctorate in will receive RMB3,500 (an equivalent of Rs78,000) per month.
“Out of the total of 32 students, 18 were awarded a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree while 14 of them were selected for PhD.
However, not a penny was paid to any of the students,” he lamented.
Apart from sending emails to the FEF, the affected students also tried to complain to the chief minister K-P’s complaint cell on the citizen’s portal, however, the attempt also turned out to be futile as no one contacted the students.
“I request the K-P government and higher education department to take the matter into consideration otherwise students will be compelled to drop out of their programme and return to Pakistan,” Wazir said.
When contacted, Adviser to the Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Higher Education Khaliq-uz-Zaman said that he has received the application from the Pakistani students studying in China, adding that he will discuss the matter with the higher-ups of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) as well as the chief minister of K-P.
“We understand the troubles that students are undergoing and hopefully, the issue will be resolved soon,” he said.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Secretary Higher Education Arshad Khan said that the application of K-P students studying in China has been duly received by the higher education department and the government will soon be sending Rs200 million the Shandong Normal University.