SOME 200 or more students at the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) have had their sponsorships pulled from under their feet on allegations their two-year sponsorships granted by the National Scholarship Division (NSD) in 2019 were “fake”.
They are now faced with arrears of up to $40,000 each before they could graduate.
Now, the National Scholarship Division [NSD] has informed the students to clear their arrears or they will not graduate.
They were final year students in 2020. All have completed their studies and are due to graduate later this year. Now settling a $40, 000 each in arrears stand between them and receiving their degrees or diplomas.
The sad tale of the students began in 2019 when the NTU allegedly granted them fully-funded scholarships for two years. The offers were made in writing, according to one student.
The scholarships cover tuition fees, accommodation, meals, and in some cases, a quarterly stipend or allowance.
“Some of the students actually received an allowance throughout 2019 and part of 2020 on the basis of their scholarships,” the student said.
But sometime in 2020, the students were told they had to vacate SINU accommodation at the Panatina Campus.
“Not only were we told to vacate, but we were also told to settle the arrears for tuition, accommodation, and meals for the two years because the scholarships were fake,” the student said.
“The fact of the matter is that the letters offering the scholarships were signed by officers in the National Training Unit. The NTU is the authority on scholarships. How can we disbelieve or question its authority when the letters of offers of scholarships were signed by NTU officers?
There are allegations some students had paid money through a student-NTU network to obtain letters offering SINU scholarships.
According to the allegation, students pay up to $4, 000 each to a student who heads the network. This student collects the money on behalf of NTU officers. It is not clear if there is only one network engaged in the alleged practice.
“As soon as the officer received the payment, he or she simply prints out the letter of offer of scholarships on the official letterhead, signs it and sends it via the student network or merely passes the word that the student’s letter of offer is ready.
“This is true and is still going on,” the student said.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD) has confirmed the issue of fake awards was more common in 2019.
“The practice described above was done in 2018 which had more of 2019 awards with such issues. As for 2020 new awardees, NSD has worked its best to avoid such practices by ensuring that 2020 new awardees are referenced accordingly to quickly spot out fake awards. This was an improvement in that NSD does not realise such fake awards after a semester but right (on) the spot.
“It should be noted though that an investigation into the scholarship saga has been conducted and a report is being compiled. Those who are implicated in the scholarship scandal will be dealt with accordingly,” the Ministry said in an email after Solomon Star sought comments yesterday.
The Ministry also confirmed that some students who have been sponsored yet found later to have fake awards (have) had their sponsorships halted.
“It is government money being used and in the event, a situation arises where an award is highly suspected to have been obtained outside of normal process; their payments have to be ceased. There are a number of students in such a situation who have confirmed obtaining such awards from their student colleagues from SINU who liaised with the MEHRD in the past years.
As of 2020, NSD/NTU pursued approaches to ensure no fake awards (are) processed as (was the case) in 2019. In 2020, NSD has managed to halt all of such awards at the spot rather than discovering it later after certain semesters have been facilitated as discovered with some whose awards halted after a few semesters’ facilitation of scholarship benefits.
“Candidates who successfully meet the requirements of scholarships are given a student number through a computerised Solomon Islands Scholarship Information System (SIMS) and so it makes extremely (it) difficult for two candidates to have the same student numbers unless (one is) faked,” the Ministry said.
“NSD would like to assure the general public that it is now working with mechanisms to avoid such activities and NSD has shown since 2020 that no fake award had been processed till now. All who attempted to use fake awards could not even pass first stage when trying to sign their awards with desk officers. This has shown how NSD tries to avoid fake award facilitation as from 2020 and it will be harder even more as of 2021,” it said.
The Ministry said the National Scholarship Division is checking the number of students involved in the fake awards in the past.
The Ministry also denied the practice is on-going, saying anyone with information should come forward.
By ALFRED SASAKO