BURKINA FASO-SENEGAL: Expat students call for help

Trainee teachers from Burkina Faso studying in Senegal have written an anguished plea for help to the newspaper Le Pays of Ougadougou, complaining about extortionate demands for rent, late or no grant payments and a lack of 'compulsory' work placements.

The 38 students are attending a joint Austria-Burkina Faso programme for trainee technical teachers involving two years' study in Dakar. They arrived there in September 2007 but since then they claim to have "lived with recurrent difficulties".

The first was rent: they had been told by the University of Koudougou in Burkina Faso that as well as their grants they would have a housing allowance paid by the Austrians which would be topped up by the university if necessary. But when they arrived in Dakar they found the rent was much higher than expected and they had to pay the extra, for which the university accordingly docked their grants.

After fruitless negotiations, the students found cheaper accommodation only to discover themselves heavily penalised by the university for housing deposits and other charges it claimed it had to repay.

The students also had problems with late payments of their grants, funded jointly by Burkina Faso and by Austria. Although the grants and benefits should have been paid quarterly, students said they rarely received the entire grant and never on time.

"That has led to difficulties regarding failure to respect the various contracts we signed - for leases, water, electricity."

When they wrote their letter, dated 6 July and published in the newspaper last week, they said they had received "not a single centime" of their grants which were due on 25 June. "Our allowances are exhausted. We have nothing and the landlords are threatening to throw us out in the next few days if the money is late."

The impact on their academic and psychological states was enormous, they wrote. "We're thinking more about our problems than our studies, which lowers our performance, and makes the most sensitive depressed. At the end of each term the questions that torture our minds are, when will they pay us? Shall we receive all our grant?"

They had just been told by the UK accounts manager that they would not receive all their grants, because the university was intending to cut one or two months of their entitlement.