Kampala — With South Sudan decreasing the funds it grants to students studying abroad every year since funding began in 2007 students are asking the government not to forget their needs as the consequences of the young nation's oil dispute with Sudan continues to affect state spending.
In 2007, then Government of Southern Sudan gave students who had applied for assistance $3,000 each in Juba. In 2008, the GoSS started sending money to Egypt, Kenya and Uganda with students getting between $2,500 to $700 US. The grant continued to sink and in 2009, only $700 and $300 was given.
This further decreased to $500 and $250 in 2011 even before the oil dispute erupted with Khartoum, which has severely affected the economy of the world's newest country, where around only 27% of people are able to read and write and many attend university elsewhere in Africa due to the low standard and capacity of higher education in South Sudan.
Students like Kajowuya Bosco Alex, who enrolled at Ndejje University as an engineering student in 2009, say they often have unforeseen costs that must be covered in order to complete their studies. As there were no other South Sudanese students studying there at the time Alex says he knew little about how much the course would really cost.
After the completion of his first year, Bosoc said he had to do his industrial training internship at Makerere University and was asked to pay extra money. He met the cost thanks to Government of then Southern Sudan students' support funds.
"Things like textbooks, industrial trainings are un-budgeted requirements but important part of studies," said Alex.
Bosco's story is not uncommon among the many South Sudanese who study at higher institutions outside the nation that became independent in July last year.
South Sudan started offering scholarship to students in Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda - most of whom took refuge during the 1983-2005 civil war that ravaged the country. Students on private scholarships are given annual support funds.
Data given to the Sudan Tribune from the office of South Sudan's Education Attaché in Kampala indicates that over 1,300 students who have received government grants have graduated from Ugandan universities and other institutions since the grants began in 2007. The grants were started by the Government of Southern Sudan which was established as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the south-north Sudanese civil war.
Beneficiaries agree that the government grant has helped them to pay for tuition fees and living costs, although not every student receives the payments.
In June 2012, a South Sudan's President Salva Kiir intervened to boost the grant received by students after it had decreased since it was first introduced in 2007.
John Nhial Abenogeu, a second year student of Mechanical Engineering at Ndejje University said the President Salva Kiir's offer was tremendous and enabled him to keep studying.
"My salary was terminated after I left my teaching job in Bor and I had risked dropping out of [the] industrial training internship [in June] just before the president money was released," said Nhial.
A Makere University student says the grant had also contributed to the increasing numbers of South Sudanese students attending both state and private universities in Uganda. Only a few South Sudanese were admitted the five Uganda government's supported universities before the students grant fund was initiated in 2007.
Despite the government students' grant, many students still don't benefit.
Alier Michael Khoc, a fourth year former student at Kampala International University (KIU) had to transfer to Ndejje University, as he could not afford the $1,500 semester fees.
South Sudan was forced to adopt austerity measures in July after the shutdown of oil production in January, as part of a dispute with neighbouring Sudan. At the time
South Sudan accuses Sudan of confiscating its oil entitlements worth about US$815m. Khartoum denied this and said the oil it took was payment in kind for unpaid fees.
Oil revenue contributed 98% of the new nation's income and the stoppage has already led to salary reductions for state employees and severe cuts to allowances as well as restrictions on the number of foreign trips taken by government officials.
South Sudan's oil ministry estimates that production could resume within two to four months if a deal agreed in August is finalised and implemented.
The agreement, facilitated by the African Union High Level Implementation Panel could see South Sudan pay US$9.10 for every barrel of oil produced in Upper Nile and $11.00 for every barrel produced in Unity State. In addition Juba also offered $3 billion as a transitional financial assistance to Sudan.
It remains unclear whether the students studying abroad will be affected by the oil crisis. Lual Akol Nhial, the South Sudan Education Attaché in Kampala, says he is not aware whether educational the grants will be affected.
"This program is supposed to continue for the current students in fourth and fifth year. I am not aware if the austerity budget has affected the grant," Akol told the Sudan Tribune in Kampala on Friday.
FACTS ABOUT STUDENT GRANTS
A total of 2,300 students benefited from the grant in 2008 in Uganda and over half of them have graduated since then. About 1,000 students, pursuing bachelor degrees in law, medicine and engineering remain on the list of beneficiaries for this year.
The grant always comes late in the year and many students told Sudan Tribune that it is rarely used as tuition fees. Critics say the grant being given to students studying aboard should have been used to support South Sudan's own ailing higher education system.
In a report by the New Times newspaper in June indicated that many home universities lack basic buildings, such as John Garang University in Bor, Jonglei State where students use plastic tents as their hostels.
Students who spoke to the Sudan Tribune blame the uncertainty over the consistence of learning programs has contributed to South Sudanese exodus to neighbouring countries where many received their primary and secondary school education during the 1983--2005 war.