Mpumalanga education confirms funds now paid for SA students in Russia, MEC calls for SIU probe into mess-up

Mpumalanga education MEC Bonakele Majuba. Photo: Supplied

Mpumalanga education MEC Bonakele Majuba. Photo: Supplied

Published Oct 18, 2022


The Mpumalanga Education Department has now requested the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to assist with a probe into the entirety of the Russia/South Africa student exchange programme after students studying at various institutions in Russia were facing expulsion and eviction as stipends, accommodation and tuition fees were allegedly not paid timeously by the department.

Mpumalanga education MEC Bonakele Majuba said on Tuesday that he requested a clear preliminary report by the end of November 2022 to look into the programme.

In the meantime, Majuba said the department was able to transfer R28m to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) to disburse it to the Russian universities for the overdue tuition and accommodation fees for students.

At least 229 students who are still furthering their studies in 11 different universities in Russia in the General Medicine, Engineering, Aviation and IT faculties, faced expulsion and deportation as their tuition was unpaid.

According to the department, the international bursary programme initiated in 2016 by the Mpumalanga Human Resource Development Strategy, appointed Green Tutu, trading as RACUS, as an implementation agent.

However, since its contract expired in March this year and combined with the department’s failure to find another implementing agent, payments were delayed, leaving students in Russia without stipends, accommodation and tuition fees being paid for months.

“We do admit that the absence of the facilitation agent caused unnecessary delays in processing stipends, fees for tuition, accommodation, visas, medical insurances for students including transportation of students.

“To this end, the department was able to process stipends to all the students, except for six that are having challenges with their bank accounts. The department depends on the co-operation of the six outstanding students and as soon as they provide us with the required information, their stipends will be processed accordingly,” Majuba said.

The department was also able to transport the students who were on a three-week recess in Mpumalanga back to Russia.

“We will work tirelessly and around the clock to ensure that not a single student is expelled or evicted from Russia.

“The department regrets the delays, anxiety and unnecessary tensions that were caused by this and promises to improve the management of this endeavour going forward,” the MEC added.

The department further granted approval for two officials to travel to Russia last Saturday to work with the South African Embassy in Moscow to assist in the facilitation of all due processes towards the resolution of this matter.

They met with the embassy yesterday and the meetings are ongoing.

Majuba said they were hopeful that these officials would be able to unlock all the remaining bottlenecks and they would also engage with students to assure them of the departments’ support.

The department said it had also increased the stipend students were receiving.

“The department has since increased the stipend from R4 000 to R5 000 per student per month to mitigate the challenges that the students are experiencing as a result of the conflict involving Russia and Ukraine.”

This International Bursary Programme was initiated in 2016 and since then, a total of 350 students were admitted and sent to Universities in the Russian Federation.

One hundred and fifteen of these students have already graduated in General Medicine, Veterinary Science, Civil Engineering, Aviation, Information Technology and Education.

Currently, there are 229 students that are still on the programme.

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