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Libyan international students face uncertain future

Myriam Robin

Wed Aug 24 2011


WITH funds from the Gaddafi regime frozen since March, Libyan scholars are stuck between a rock and a hard place – unable to pay for fees and living expenses in Australia, and unable to return home for fear of persecution. Myriam Robin reports.

Since March, Libyan international students in Australia have faced an uncertain future. After the funds of the Gaddafi regime were frozen, the scholarships and living allowances they received have been drying up.

All Australian universities have deferred the payments of their course fees, but the Libyan Peoples Bureau has informed the students that the money for their stipends is expected to run out by the end of August.

This will affect the 600 Libyan international students studying in Australian universities, including the 140 in Victoria. Many of these students also have their families with them.

With the Gaddafi regime crumbling, it is possible the funds that were frozen will be made available to the new Libyan government soon. However, with the fighting not yet over, this is unlikely to take place within the next few days, at which point the funds in Australia will be depleted.

Since 2007, the Libyan Committee for Higher Education has been providing scholarships for graduates to do further study overseas. Australia was one of five destinations chosen for the students, who had their tuition paid for by the Libyan government, in addition to their receiving a monthly living allowance.

Heather Richards, the vice-president of the Council of International Students Australia, said more than 345 concerned Libyan students have contacted the council.

“They don’t know what’s happening…they don’t know if they’ll be able to support themselves and their families,” she said.

International students in Australia have to pay school fees for public schooling if they have school-aged children. Some Libyan students have had to remove their children from school due to the uncertainty of their financial situation.

Many have also emailed the council, saying they fear they will be homeless in a matter of weeks.

The chief of Education Australia, Glen Withers, says funds have been located in London that could be used to help the students.

But it would require the sign-off of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Libyan Central Bank and the UN Security Council, who need to be convinced that the universities are an “appropriate neutral third party for administration of the funds”, he said.

“That would be the breakthrough that would solve everything.

“We’re jumping through those hoops as quickly as we can.”

However, Ms Richards said students have not been sufficiently informed of the process.

“That’s why they’ve been contacting us. They don’t know what’s happening,” she said.

“Nothing is really public, nothing’s been said to them.”

She said students have been hearing a solution is coming for a long time, but many of them do not have the money to support themselves in the meantime.

In late June, a student studying in Perth returned home to Libya after becoming concerned for his family’s safety.

When he arrived in Libya, he was killed by soldiers loyal to the Gaddafi regime.

Ms Richards said the incident has raised additional fears among many of the students, as many has taken part in pro-revolutionary protests in Australia.

The conquest of the Libyan capital by rebel forces this week may at least relieve them from concern of the dangers of going home when they have to return.

Financially, it is hoped a solution may come soon.

According to the council, last Thursday three universities, including Swinburne and Victoria University in Victoria, have confirmed they will offer some financial assistance to their Libyan students.

For those at other universities, Mr Withers emphasised that “everyone is working with good-will”.

“Unless something really deteriorates there in the near future, we’re optimistic that the students will be okay within another four to six weeks or so.”

“But there’s no guarantees.”