By Alfred Sasako
MORE than 100 Solomon Islands students studying at Emalus Campus in Vanuatu face the prospect of returning home unless the government sorts out the proposed cut in their allowances.
They are appealing to the government to assess their cost of living in Port Vila before cutting their allowances.
The students say in a letter to the Island Sun newspaper yesterday that the proposed cut is “unrealistic and unwelcomed”, adding a proper assessment of their cost of living would result in the increase of their allowances, rather than reduce it.
They said a National Training Unit (NTU) officer who visited them in recent weeks had failed to clarify the intended cut despite questions from the students.
“The students of Emalus Campus are shocked to hear from the visiting officer of the NTU that the SIG is proposing to make a sudden cut of the students’ allowances.
“However, the … officer did not clarify to the students what the percentage is to be cut. Up until now the students are still uncertain what the policy of the government is as the students have based their allowances on the scholarship award signed with the government,” one student wrote.
“We are very concerned that should the proposed cut in allowance proceed, we cannot sustain the cost of living in Port Vila,” they said. They said that in recent months the Vanuatu government had increased Value Added Tax (VAT) on goods of 15 percent.
“The government before imposing any cut should make proper assessment on the cost of living in Vanuatu, particularly in Port Vila,” adding the proposed action by the SIG is unrealistic and unwelcomed.
The students say they are rather concerned that while students at Laucala Campus had been given assurance by the director of NTU that their allowances would not be cut such assurance could not be extended to students in other regional campuses including Emalus.
”If that is so then that is unfair and unrealistic as proper assessment have to be made before any such cut is to be made. For us Emalus Students if proper assessment is made the student allowance should be increased in order to cope with the cost of living.
More than 100 students at Emalus Campus received half of their allowances four weeks ago.
“These students have to share their allowances with other students who did not receive anything at all.
“A week ago more than 50 students received half of their allowances and have to pay back the monies borrowed from other students. So far more than 20 students are yet to receive any allowance,” the student said.
“By now the student allowances have been exhausted and if the other half is not forthcoming then the students will not be able to sustain the cost of living and have to return home,” he said.
The students say when they contacted the Ministry of Education, Human Resources Development for an explanation, the acting Permanent Secretary of Education told them “the cut was due to the pressure (on the) scholarship budget”.
Others said it would appear there was misinterpretation of what the reduction in the scholarship budget.
“The reduction of scholarship budget does not mean the student allowance is cut,” one MP told the students.
“The students of Emalus Campus are calling on the proper authority to address the issue of student allowances without delay. This is so that the students can decide whether to return home or not … rather than incurring costs that we cannot meet,” the students said.