Maputo — The Mozambican government is carrying out a census of all students studying abroad.
According to Manuel Rego, spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, this task is in the hands of his Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. The census has been under way since 2010, and is intended to ascertain the number of Mozambicans studying abroad, which institutions they are attending and which courses they are following.
The government also wants to know who has sent the students abroad and under what conditions.
The importance of this task became evident earlier this year, when Mozambican students in Sudan protested against their poor living conditions. Until the press picked up their protest, the Education Ministry had no idea that there were 45 Mozambicans at the International University of Africa in Khartoum. They had not gone there through any governmental channels, but had been sent by Islamic bodies.
Rego told reporters that the government is finding it difficult to gather information about students sent abroad by non-governmental bodies, or who went under their own steam. Some students are refusing to take part in the census, and in such cases the two Ministries ask those students who are on government scholarships to persuade the others to register.
"We face difficulties in gathering information because some students say the government doesn't need to know that they're there", said Rego. "But people should not be afraid of saying where they are and why".
"Many students are not registering, and as long as everything is going well that's no problem. But if something goes wrong, it will be difficult to support these people", he added.
Some students suspected a trick - they imagined that if they register at Mozambican diplomatic representations, this means they are promising to work for the government after completing their studies.
"This is almost a general situation", said Rego. "The students think that the census means an undertaking between them and the government. They often ask 'why do I have to fill in the form?'. But it's important that they keep in contact with the government institutions, receive support when necessary, and also allow the authorities to check whether the faculties they are attending are credible".
The problem of lack of contact is not restricted to students. According to the Director of Legal and Consular Affairs in the Foreign Ministry, Geraldo Chirindza, many Mozambicans living abroad do not even bother to find out where the nearest Mozambican representation is, so that they can register and receive the support they may require.
This means that the government has no exact data on the number of Mozambicans living, working and studying abroad. Only when problems arise, do these Mozambicans seek out the Mozambican embassy or consulate.
"When citizens arrive in any other country, they should register with the Mozambican diplomatic representation, so that they can benefit from assistance. If there is no representation in that country, they should contact the nearest embassy", Chirindza urged.
"Regardless of why they have travelled, it is important that these people register so that, when necessary, they can be located. You never know when a problem may arise". He stressed.
The case of the students in Sudan shows the difficulties that can occur when citizens abroad have no contact with Mozambican diplomatic representations. When they protested through the media, the government said it had no knowledge that there were any Mozambican students in Khartoum, and so could take no responsibility for them.
There are many other students scattered across the globe, whose studies are financed by NGOs, without any involvement or knowledge of the government. They do not benefit from the same procedures as those students studying abroad under bilateral agreements between Mozambique and its foreign partners.
"Any Mozambican citizen can travel abroad and do what he likes, but it is advisable for him to inform the nearest Mozambican embassy or consulate. The information should circulate so that assistance can be made available", said Chirindza.
About 1,000 Mozambicans are studying at foreign universities, under the bilateral agreements between Mozambique and other counties. The largest number of students on these scholarships is to be found in China, followed by Algeria, Cuba, Russia, Portugal, Venezuela and Turkey.
But they are thought to be greatly outnumbered by students who are financing their own studies, or who have obtained scholarships from non-governmental bodies.