Yemeni Students Abroad Struggle to Support Themselves, Demand More Aid

National Yemen

Yemeni Student protest for their rights at Yemen Embassy in Malaysia

Asma Al-Mohattwari

Protests and sit-ins organized by Yemeni students abroad are spreading to countries around the world, including Algeria, Malaysia, India, Germany, Egypt, Sudan, Russia and Lebanon. Students are protesting the amount of financial aid they are given by demonstrating in front of the Yemeni Embassies buildings on their campuses. The Cultural attachés are tasked with the students’ well-being.

Some of the buildings have been shut down by demonstrations. Other students have threatened to go on hunger strike until their demands are met.

Third year medical student Diaa Damaj of Saarland University in Germany, said that Yemeni students abroad have the same overwhelming problem: their financial aid package does not cover all their basic living expenses.

“They give us 400 Euros a month, which only covers rent and university insurance,” Damaj said.

Students in Germany are demanding an increase in aid from 400 Euros monthly to 740 Euros with no delay in the disbursement.

“This is the minimum aid needed to survive in Germany,” Damaj said.

Because of the size of aid packages, many students are forced to work and consequently do poorly in their studies, leading some students to fail their courses. This leads the Yemeni Embassy to cut off funding and scholarships for those students.

Other students, who have family or personal connections to the Ministry of Higher Education, continue to receive aid well after graduation, Damaj Said.

“Where is the justice,” Damaj asked. “Everyone knows that when the minister or his son comes to Germany, they spend a month’s worth of aid for a night’s hotel room.”

Students in Malaysia have similar demands to those in Germany. A statement issued by the Executive Council of the Yemeni Students Association – Malaysia to President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the foreign minister, minister of higher education and minister of finance asked them to meet their demands without delay.

Students in Malaysia are demanding $680 a month for undergraduate studies and $1040 a month for graduate studies. Tuition fees are not calculated in the financial aid package offered to students, they are paid separately. The cost of tuition at Malaysian universities has risen to $4500 while the Yemeni government has only compensated the universities $3000 per student, leaving students to make up the difference. Students also demanded a $500 yearly book allowance.

International Islamic University student Eyad Ahmed, in Malaysia, said that graduates who owe fees have yet to receive their degrees. Some students were prevented from taking exams or receiving exam scores for failure to pay.

There are two kinds of scholarships awarded, one through government funding and the other through cultural exchange. The students on cultural exchange are not charged tuition, and neither is their government.

In Malaysia, students say they were sent on scholarship as cultural exchange students, under the understanding that there would be no tuition fees. Once they arrived, they were informed that the Malaysian government does not have an exchange program. Students were forced to put their studies on hold until the government agreed to pay tuition. While the government did eventually pay up, students want to make sure future students don’t face the difficulties they did, and that the government funds future students and does not send them as cultural exchange students.

Minister of Higher Education Hisham Sharaf said that the ministry has a budget to stick to and it cannot be raised unless the ministry of finance agrees to fund the increase.

“I support the students’ demands but this is an issue that should be taken up with the ministry of finance, and frankly, it may take some time. Regarding the students who lost their scholarships or study opportunities because of work obligations and tuition fees, we will take care of them,” Sharaf said.

The ministry of education says it sent out a memorandum to the ministry of finance in November asking for a $100 monthly increase for each student in the 2013 budget.

Associate Professor of Life Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne Swtizerland Dr. Hilal Lashuel says that the Ministry of Finance and Saqr Alwajeeh must clarify their positions and assume their responsibilities to address the concerns of the students so that a solution is reached.

“The ministry of finance controls all financial aspects of the higher education system in Yemen with limited autonomy to individual institutions and ministries. There can be no increase in student allowance without more funds from the ministry of finance,” Lashuel said. “We should not mix up the issues. While it is true that ministry of higher education has not fulfilled its responsibilities and did not advocate for the interests of the students, today the solution to increasing stipends rests with the ministry of finance.”

National Yemen secured an advanced copy of the Annual Report for the Ministry of Higher Education 2012-2013, which listed the number of students studying abroad at the expense of the ministry at 6101 students as of the end of 2012. Those students are dispersed around 40 countries.

The report identified what the ministry considered the most important obstacles regarding students abroad. They include random and numerous destinations of study and popular majors that aren’t conducive to development or the labor market and are a waste of public money, the report said.

The report says that the troubles are a result of an unclear vision for the distribution of grants, which are suppose to sponsor students whose goals for study contribute to comprehensive development of the country. Contributing to these problems, the report said, is the fact that many students are chosen based on their connections and who they know at the ministries, not on competence and qualifications.

The report outlined several solutions. The first solution involves establishing clear criteria and transparency in the selection process, not of just of students, but of cultural advisors and their assistants abroad.

The report stressed the financial obligations the ministry had towards the students and the need to send aid in a timely manner, as well as bringing together the ministry of higher education, ministry of foreign affairs and ministry of finance to solve financial matters.

Students abroad say they will continue their protests until their demands are met.