…says SLAAA President
July 15, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
President of the Sierra Leone-Australia Alumni Association (SLAAA), Usman Conteh, has disclosed that the Australia Scholarship Scheme was strictly apolitical as one doesn’t need to be politically and biologically connected to benefit from it.
He made this disclosure during the launching ceremony of the Association yesterday at the Miatta Conference Centre in Freetown.
The SLAAA President said that after they applied for the scholarship, they produced their original certificates, including GCE O’ level and undergraduate degrees, adding that they also wrote an examination and subjected to an oral interview before the final shortlist.
“It is one of the most transparent and fair scholarship programmes I have ever seen. You will not be asked about your political or biological affiliation in order to benefit from it. As long as you have a very good undergraduate degree that you can prove to the interview panel, you will be shortlisted and awarded the scholarship,” he said and added that successful applicants should also pass a mandatory medical examination.
He explained that having fulfilled all of the above requirements and gotten a formal letter of acceptance for the award of scholarship, awardees would then travel to Ghana for pre-departure briefing on life in Australia and expectations.
“The Australia Government will provide an air ticket for you to and from Ghana. When you finally arrive in Australia, you will be given five thousand Australian dollars for you to buy toiletries and rent an apartment. I understand that amount has been increased now,” he disclosed. He added that foreign students would be given guidance as to where to rent apartments, taking into consideration cost and proximity to campus.
He said plagiarism is a serious offense in Australian Universities and students are encouraged to work hard and be original.
He said that three months to the end of the scholarship and stay in Australia, students would be notified to prepare to leave the country.
He said Australians are very good people and the professors are always ready to help their students anytime they are being called upon.
The SLAAA President said in 2009, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation advertised a scholarship scheme for students to pursue their post graduate studies in Australia, adding that a total of six students got the scholarship grant.
He disclosed that the Association was formed in 2013 and has been registered with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, opened a bank account, established a website, leased an office space, and administered a project in a village in Koinadugu district, northern Sierra Leone.
He however disclosed that the Australian Government has stopped offering scholarship to Sierra Leonean students even prior to the Ebola outbreak, and called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resuscitate the scheme so that other students in the country would benefit.
The Special Assistant to the Director-General and Ambassador-at-large in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Sheik Kargbo, said the launch of SLAAA would open new avenues for sustainable training opportunities for Sierra Leoneans in both the public and private sectors.
He said the goal of SLAAA was to build a strong network between those of Australia and its members, adding that they should not be an Association for elites but should represent all students that have studied in Australia.
“We are now moving away from our traditional form of diplomacy, which is government-to-government, now we need to have actors outside government influencing policies from foreign countries to benefit other Sierra Leoneans. This is challenging but we should try and influence more Australian support to boost diverse areas of national development,” he said. He added that the SLAAA should lobby for more Australian scholarships to benefit other Sierra Leonean students.
He said the survival of SLAAA should be the concern for its membership, with commitment and transparent leadership, one that is understanding, supporting and with a selfless membership. He said his door would always be opened to members of SLAAA and pledged to ensure that his ministry resuscitates the scholarship scheme.
Chairman of the launching ceremony, who is also a member of the Association, Dan Parkinson, said after they obtained their Masters degree from Australia, they came back to contribute to national development, adding that most of them are currently holding various positions in government.
Representative of the Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sahr Johnny, said the Australian Government was helping Sierra Leone especially in the agriculture sector, under the Smallholder Commercialisation Programme (SCP), where the sum of 1.5 million Australian dollars had been invested. He pledged that the ministry would seek to resuscitate the scholarship scheme in order that other Sierra Leoneans would benefit.