Students of the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology yesterday staged a peaceful protest in front of the Ministry of Higher and Technical Education at New England Ville in Freetown.
The protest was precipitated by the marathon negligence of the government to pay fees for students at the above-mentioned university.
The peaceful gathering, which constituted mainly students of the university, was disrupted by the Sierra Leone Police, who fired tear gas and arrested seventeen students.
The government of Sierra Leone under the President Koroma's led administration awarded scholarships to over one thousand (1000) students to study various courses at the Malaysia private university in 2014.
Those students yesterday intended to register their displeasure through a peaceful protest over the snail pace of the New Direction administration to address their fee constraints.
One of the aggrieved students,Musa Kamara, expressed frustration that they should have resumed classes for semester four (4) and semester eight (8) but because of the snub of the government to pay their fees, the resumption of their classes have been deferred three consecutive times since September.
He claimed that for the past two years, their fees have been paid by the president and proprietor of the University, Dr. Paduka LimKokwing, and that a single dime has not been paid by the new government.
"This New Direction administration should not say because the university was not established under their regime and will not pay our fees. As far as it was the government of Sierra Leone that awarded us the scholarship, I believe it should be continuity by this current government, because we are Sierra Leoneans and the flagship programme of this new government is free quality education," she said.
However, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Higher and Technical Education, Gilbert Cooper, said it was unfortunate on the part of the university administration to have sent the students out of college in the first place because his ministry inherited the problem students were now experiencing.
He said when they assumed office, the university made a presentation to the ministry that the previous government owed them twenty-five billion Leones as backlog, but that they negotiated with the university to pay twenty-three billion Leones.
He claimed that the current government has paid twenty-two billion Leones, remaining one billion Leones.
He said they consented as a government to continue paying for students that were awarded scholarship, but that the university should cater for the new set of students applying for the same grant-in aid.
"We have other public universities such as Fourah Bay College, IPAM, COMAHS, Njala University, Ernest Bai Koroma University, and the Milton Margai College of Education. All of these universities and colleges still have outstanding subvention which has not been paid to them. All these backlogs since 2015-2019 have not actually been paid by government and it has accumulated so much," he said.
He said plans were underway to engage the Ministry of Finance to pay all the backlog subventions to all tertiary institutions and not just Limkokwing.
He said they as a government will engage the Limkokwing Universiy administration to allow students resume classes.