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Opinions of Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Columnist: Agyemang, Peter

The Ghanaian Scholar in the UK – A Blessing or a Curse?

I was highly elated when sometime in 2008 I was awarded a scholarship by the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFUND) through the Scholarship Secretariat to pursue a post-graduate research programme in the United Kingdom.

At the airport in Ghana to see me off on the day of my departure, September 18, 2008, an uncle of mine who had always been very supportive of me, told me I should always endeavour to 'send something home.' I told him for the umpteenth time that I was going to study and not to work. To him there was no difference at all whether I was to going to study, to work or to visit someone, what mattered to him was that I was travelling to the United Kingdom, the 'land of money.'

I got to the United Kingdom on September 19, 2008 and after going through registration in my institution of learning, I also went to the Office of the Ghana High Commissioner in London to register. By November 2009, I had received my stipend for the first quarter of the 2008/2009 academic year (we are paid quarterly). Come January 2009, there is a change in government in Ghana and the 'problems' for us are compounded (which should not have been the case at all). First was a directive that we should all acknowledge receipt of any stipends paid to us in writing, apparently because somebody has just taken over and felt that everything that was done before was shrouded in corruption. That we did, and it took us several months to get our stipends for the second and third quarters of the academic year. The fourth quarter was paid to us piecemeal.

I, like all other government of Ghana scholars, am paid £600 a month for my maintenance (I wish I could be paid $500 a week and be fed and accommodated as was the case with Mr Pratt when he went to South Africa). I live in a three bedroom fully furnished house with two other foreign students, a Malawian and a Brazilian. Each one of us pays £380 a month inclusive of our gas, electricity and water bills, as rent. I spend a minimum of £40 a week on food, £16 a week on transport and £10 a week on phone calls (I have to call home you know). All these out of the £600 I am paid a month as maintenance. My Malawian colleague, who has also been sponsored by his government, is given £1200 every month and his account is credited on the 28th of every month whether or not that day falls on a week day (He shows his bank statement to me). The Brazilian, also on sponsorship by the government of his country was initially paid £1150 but he has since had his stipend revised upwards to £1350. He gets his money monthly, even though unlike the Malawian he does not get his money on a fixed date in a month, yet he is paid every month. Both of them do not work and are thus concentrating only on their academic work, the reason for which they are here. I am told with regards to economic growth, Ghana is better off than Malawi. I am not by this implying that those of us from Ghana should be paid £1000 but at least our money should be paid on time. We are, under these circumstances, compelled to do menial jobs to be able to eke out a living at the detriment of our studies. Most often I have to depend on these two friends of mine for 'soft loans'.

Without sounding political, which I am tempted to do, I want to believe that this problem, I am told it has persisted for some time now, has been made worse by the current government in charge of affairs in Ghana. The government lauds itself for some achievements but it does not look to me like seeing to the welfare of Ghanaian scholars abroad is one of them. In 2008 when I arrived, I had to go through registration formalities and yet I was paid in November. My colleagues from Malawi and Brazil did not believe that I am genuinely on a government scholarship. I had to show them my sponsorship offer letter before they believed me.

What amuses me however is that it looks like the government wants us to issue threats or perhaps sell our stories to the tabloids here before we are listened to. Mr David Annan confirmed this on 'Newsfile' a Joy fm current affairs programme on Saturday December 26, 2009 when he indicated that the minority in parliament threatened rejecting the 2010 budget statement if their ex-gratia was not paid and that compelled the government to pay the ex-gratia. I will not doubt that because Mr Annan is an 'insider' in the current administration. Is this the way the government wants to run affairs in the country? You must issue threats before you are given what is due you?

As I write now, the first semester of the 2009/2010 academic year has ended and we are yet to be paid our stipends for the first quarter of the academic year. Some scholars from Ghana have had to be suspended from their institutions for non payment of tuition fees, how motivating can this be? We do appreciate the fact that the monies involved, especially the tuition fees are huge, but we do not think that making us 'suffer' the way we are made to do solves the problem. I am by this piece, appealing to whoever is responsible for the payment of our stipends, or whoever is delaying the process of our payment to please ensure that the 'torture', and the 'humiliation' that we go through on a daily basis are brought to an end.

I started by referring to an uncle of mine who saw me off at the airport, I called him on Christmas day to wish him a Happy Christmas and his response to me was that I had disappointed him. He said I have not been able to give him a 'pesewa' since I got to the UK over a year ago. He added that I was having 'fun' in the UK and I had left them to suffer at home.

On another note, I will want to suggest that instead of His Excellency the President of Ghana rejecting his travel allowances and Christmas hampers, the travel allowances could be used to buy computers or classroom furniture for some deprived schools in Ghana while the hampers are sent to some children wards in hospitals in Ghana, in both cases it should be sent in the name of the president. Just refusing these things like that without any benefit to some who need them for me just seeks to gain some political capital which helps nobody. Or at best it should be sent to the suffering scholars in the UK.

Happy New Year to you all!

Peter Agyemang