Officials suspended, arrested over alleged scholarship fraud

The office of the Libyan Attorney General (AG) has ordered the arrest of a group of officials in the higher education ministry’s scholarships office in Türkiye accused of violating regulations in the awarding of scholarships to Libyan students worth about €14 million (US$15 million).

The officials include the heads of the attachés and scholarship students’ department, the internal review department and the acting head of the financial control department, according to a statement issued on 28 August by the Libyan AG’s office.

The coordinating organisation of teaching assistants in the higher education and technical education sector in Libya issued a statement on 31 August following the announcement, alleging that Imran Al-Qayeb, the minister of higher education and scientific research, knew of the irregularities, as did Khaled Al-Mabrouk, the minister of finance, who is also responsible for decisions related to the financing students.

Earlier, on 29 August, the Libyan Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, issued an order halting the scholarships of students abroad based on the AG office’s investigations, in addition to stripping the minister of higher education and scientific research of his authority to issue scholarship approvals or providing financial support to Libyan international students.

As a result of the investigation and its findings, premier Dbeibeh also ordered the suspension of the officials who were allegedly involved.

Dbeibeh called upon the scholarships committee he recently formed to finalise regulations within a month on governance processes related to the distribution of scholarships and the method of selection.

What the AG found

Alsadik Ahmed Al Soor, the head of the office, said the evidence had shown that the employees had abused their positions. This has affected the scholarships of 757 out of 1,895 students who were sent to study in Türkiye.

According to Al Soor, violations related to a breach in eligibility rules about delays in students’ studies and the justification thereof, as well as taking more than the maximum length of time to obtain a degree. There were also violations related to the age requirements for scholarships, according to Al Soor.

Furthermore, said Al Soor, the children of some officials who work abroad also earned financial grants. This is a breach, because they already benefited from the consular system’s education benefits for their children.

Al Soor ordered the payment of grants to students if they were not on the list of those who violated the rules. He also called for the redirection of savings earned from those who violated the rules to students who are eligible to study at Libyan universities.

Professor Ahmed Attia, the head of faculty affairs at the faculty of medical technology at the University of Tripoli, Libya, told University World News: “Those people who violate the rules must be put under investigation and scholarship programmes have to be offered … based on merit.”

“Clarity on the scholarship list must be ensured by periodically publishing the list on the higher education ministry website to enhance transparency and increase trust – along with exposing any injustice and inequalities in scholarships allocations,” said Attia.

Call for broader corruption investigation

In a statement on 29 August the General Syndicate of University Teaching Staff Members in Libya (GSUTSM) said that it hoped the AG would expand the investigation into corruption to include all areas.

Following the earlier publication of the lists of the Libyan students who would go to Türkiye for their studies, which included students who were relatives of government officials and the House of Representatives, the GSUTSM demonstrated in front of government headquarters in the capital, Tripoli, in August.

At that point, they applied pressure for an outcome of the probe that was launched by the AG into alleged scholarship corruption.