African diplomats have told SBS they don’t want handouts but partnerships and funding for tertiary scholarships.
At the Australian National University the number of African students on scholarships has shrunk from 20 to 2.
Gilbert Mbipan from Cameroon is the Deputy Director in his country’s Ministry of Trade. He on a study scholarship at the ANU and considers himself one of the lucky ones.
“I am here to study public policy,” he said. “The scholarships are very important for the students who come to study and for their country.”
“[But] The cuts have impacted on those who were supposed to come. You see so many people who really wanted to come [to Australia to study]. They did apply but they couldn’t come.”
Uganda’s High Commissioner to Canberra Enoch Nkuruho, along with all African heads of diplomatic missions in Australia, has appealed for the cuts to be reconsidered.
“The representation was about the cutting of the budget. We appreciate the problem Australia is facing, but we still feel that Africa lost out very heavily,” High Commissioner Nkuruho said.
“Cutting aid for education, reducing the scholarships is a mistake. I came to Australia on one of those scholarships and the benefit Australia has got is that they have a High Commissioner, I am working for Uganda and at the same time I am working for Australia.”
Aid funds in the 2015 budget were cut overall, but funding to Africa was hit the hardest.
Ramped up during the Rudd-Gillard years in the campaign for a UN Security Council, aid to Africa peaked at $231 million and was then cut by the Abbott Government to $32 million as it focused aid spending on the Asia Pacific region.
Student leader Kofi Osei Bonsu is from Ghana. He is the Vice President of the Council of International Students Australian.
He said the cuts have had a rapid impact.
“I think it is high time the [Australian] government rethink cutting funds and supporting students coming from Africa. I think Australian and Africa needs to collaborate.
“I believe that every country that wants to prosper needs to invest in education. If Australians really want to see Africans prosper they need to help us in this regard.”
Mr Bonsu said African students studying at Australian universities are the leaders of the future in their countries.
“Students get immense understanding of how public policy works. They take what they learn from here and take it back to Africa. Things are really changing. “
The African heads of Mission await Australia’s response to their request for a funding reversal.
The federal government said it stands by its decision on aid spending in Africa.