After gaining admission at the Johns Hopkins University, for a master’s degree programme, Dr Fathia Kareem applied for a scholarship at GETFund but was refused two years in a row.
Her story is testament to what many say is a failed and broken system at the GETFund Secretariat, especially after it emerged that government officials, and not brilliant and needy students are listed as beneficiaries of the fund in a report by the Auditor-General.
Over the weekend, Dr Kareem, a former student of the KNUST School of Medical Sciences who graduated top of her class, sweeping 12 out of 15 awards in 2016, shared the story on how she had to defer the programme for a Master’s in Public Health in 2018 and 2019.
Speaking in a telephone conversation with Samson Lardy on JoyNews’ ‘Newsfile’, she revealed that she was part of the top three applicants selected for the course from Ghana in 2018, so she was hopeful of getting the scholarship even though former applicants told her it wasn’t going to be easy.
“I spoke to a few people who had applied previously and although the news was not really good because they told me these days GETFund was not giving so much support as they used to but I still decided to go ahead and apply anyway because I felt that even if the funding was limited, I felt like was qualified enough to be considered for the scholarship.” She said.
She said she attached a mail received from the Hopkins University to her application with the hope that it will give her a bigger advantage in being considered for the scholarship.
“Over there (John Hopkins University), their mindset was that, in Ghana, Ghanaian students get support from GETFund so getting funding should not be a problem.”
But all that yielded to nothing as she was told that a decision hadn’t been made on applications yet when she followed up about three weeks after submitting it.
She went to the GETFund office after that for further enquiries but the secretariat kept delaying till the deadline for commencement of the programme elapsed, as such, she had to defer.
She tried again in 2019 when the Senior Programmes Manager of the John Hopkins University told her some Ghanaian students received funding from GETFund the previous year. He gave her contacts to some of those students who told her how they got it.
“I spoke to about two of them, one of them actually got a stipend but I think two of them got part of their tuition from GETFund. They told me it was a struggle because they had to be going to the [GETFund] offices frequently. For over two months they kept going there, and in the end, they were given the scholarship,” she recalled.
Dr Kareem said she was excited when she received a LinkedIn request from the Education Minister as she was looking for an opportunity to speak to him about her concerns.
Even though she wasn’t sure if he sent the request personally or the handlers of his account did it, she still told him about her worries and he, in turn, told her no scholarships were available for studies in the U.S.
He further told her that the selection of beneficiaries was not based only on academic achievements but also the relevance of the course to national development and the non-availability of the programme in Ghanaian universities.
Since she was based outside Accra at the time, her father had to submit her application and also make several trips to the GETFund office to follow up on it but that still didn’t make any difference.
Rather, a staff member of the GETFund secretariat told her father, “it would be better if he knew someone who could bring it directly to the higher-ups at GETFund” and for over six months, he tried without success to get her applications to any senior official at GETFund.
The young medical practitioner had to decline the offer again and planned not to bother reapplying again but another mail from the Dean of Johns Hopkins University encouraging her to re-apply made her change her mind.
“I almost gave up on it…but the Dean of Johns Hopkins University emailed me after I had declined the offer the second time, encouraging me to re-apply. That was the only reason I have actually re-applied, and they have accepted me once again,” she explained.
She’s hoping to be third time lucky.
“So now hopefully, I will submit another application to GETFund. I am not sure how far it is going to go, but it is worth a try.”
The Auditor-General report chronicled the disbursement of scholarships issued to 3,112 people from 2014 to 2018.
About 88 beneficiaries on the list, are Members of Parliament, politicians, media practitioners, lecturers, heads of institutions and associates who went to study abroad.
The report revealed that GETFund unlawfully splashed out more than $4.7m in scholarships to persons who were not needy students.
Deputy Majority Leader, Sarah Adwoa Safo; Education Minister, Matthew Opoku Prempeh and, the son of the Employment and Labour Minister, Ignatius Baffour Awuah were listed among the beneficiaries.