Cablegate: Gol Funding Increasing Numbers of Students in U.S. Universities Tripoli 00000114 001.2 of 003 1.(Sbu)
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SUBJECT: GOL FUNDING INCREASING NUMBERS OF STUDENTS IN U.S. UNIVERSITIES TRIPOLI 00000114 001.2 OF 003 1.(SBU)
SUMMARY: The Government of Libya (GOL) is continuing to expand its scholarship program funding Libyan students in the United States, focusing primarily on supporting Libyan graduate students. Building on existing relationships with U.S. academia dating from the 1960s and 1970s, in less than four years the GOL has increased the number of Libyans studying on scholarships in America from zero to approximately 1,600 students. From the outset, Libyan students faced a series of unique challenges caused by the nearly thirty-year absence of a bilateral American-Libyan relationship. A lack of knowledge of the U.S. academic system combined with a low-level of basic English instruction led to a large number of Libyan students returning home disappointed and without a degree. We view this as an opportunity to assist the GOL with a mutually desired program that is fairly independent from the usual GOL political interference. The Public Affairs and Consular Sections have been able to meet with hundreds of potential Libyan students over the last year and provide them with free information on educational opportunities and student visas. The GOL has also made significant improvements in its scholarship program since 2005 including widening its pool of scholarship nominees, creating an electronic database, and hiring a Canadian company to manage placement and student services. Overall, despite complex bureaucracy and internal change, the program continues to succeed in training a new generation of Libyan professionals who will have enduring ties with the United States. End summary.
The GOL Scholarship Program: An Overview
2.(U) Since before the 1969 Libyan revolution, the GOL sponsored Libyan students studying abroad, including in the United States. Current Libyan Ambassador to Washington Ali Al-Aujeli recently told journalists that over 6,000 of his countrymen had studied in American institutions in the past. Since the resumption of bilateral relations, over 2,000 U.S. student visas have been issued to Libyans, with the majority being government scholarships. The Libyan Minister of Education-equivalent reportedly ordered his department to focus on sending Libyan students to the United States due to the international reputation and academic superiority of American academic institutions. Scholarship students must agree to return to Libya after graduation and work in their field of study for several years. Many past Libyan graduates of U.S. institutions have gone on to senior positions within their fields of expertise, including government service (Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, for example, is a graduate of Michigan State University).
3.(SBU) In most cases, students receive funding for a year of English study prior to beginning academic programs in the United States. (Note: Due to a ban on studying foreign languages during the sanctions years, Libyan students generally have limited English language capabilities. End note). Upon completing the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the students apply to U.S. universities in hopes of gaining acceptance and maintaining their scholarships. Initially, Libyan students faced a series of challenges including low acceptance rates. The GOL estimates that from 2005 to 2008, more than 600 Libyan scholarship students returned to Libya without having completed their degrees. The Libyan Department of Scholarships now estimates that 1,000 Libyan scholarship students have been accepted into academic programs in addition to another 600 currently enrolled in English language programs. Our GOL interlocutors indicate that among the lessons learned from the challenging beginning are to expand the choices of universities they recognize and to focus on hard sciences unless the student has stellar English scores.
4.(SBU) The GOL scholarships pay full tuition, books, and insurance as well as providing a stipend for living expenses based on family size. When Libyan students first returned to the United States, both students and institutions complained of poor service, late payments, and ill-run bureaucracy in dealing with the GOL. The GOL demonstrated some commitment to tightening control of scholarship administration when it appointed Dr. Omran al-Geriani as head of the Department of Scholarships in May 2009. The Cultural Attachi at the Libyan People's Bureau in Washington was made responsible for financing and coordinating scholarship activities in the United States. Starting in February 2010, and following a competitive bidding process, the task of coordinating GOL scholarships throughout North America will be assumed by the Canadian Bureau of International Exchange (CBIE). The organization has managed the Canadian portion of the GOL's program since January 2010. A forthcoming delegation of members from the GOL's finance, education, and cultural wings will seek to iron out final TRIPOLI 00000114 002.2 OF 003 details including coordination among their department representatives at the Libyan Embassy in Washington.
Scholarship Selection Process
5.(SBU) According to Al-Geriani, each major ministry of the government can nominate students for scholarships. All nominations are then routed through the People's Committee for Education (the largest nominating branch in its own right). Applicants usually find their names listed online within a year of application. They must then select where they will study, with the United Kingdom, Germany, Malaysia, Canada, Indonesia, and the United States being popular choices. The UK program has reportedly reached its 4,000-student cap however, and no new GOL scholarships are being offered at present. Unlike in previous decades, the GOL issues scholarships almost exclusively for graduate and post-graduate study, due to the GOL's desire to build its own undergraduate programs. However, a small percentage of the top high school graduates in the country (approximately 85 in 2009) receive scholarships for undergraduate study in the country of their choice. High school graduates who have chosen the United States have been consistently in the engineering and sciences fields.
6.(SBU) The Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation (QDF), a quasi-governmental institution headed by Muammar al-Qadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, provides another path to study abroad for those without formal government scholarships. After applying and being selected to received a scholarship, applicants find their names listed online at regular intervals based on the country of choice for study. Unlike the GOL scholarship process, QDF scholarships come with the school pre-designated. The head of the foundation's student affairs program, Dr. Taieb El-Bahloul, himself a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, told Emboffs his greatest concern is the lower qualification level of his program's awardees. Unlike the other nominating bodies, the foundation's students typically have been in the work force for a number of years already and often face challenges in readapting to academia and foreign language acquisition. Libyan students personally funding their studies in the United States can also compete to pick up a government scholarship. Interested students must have already completed half of the coursework for their Masters or PhD program study at an approved university. The GOL has extended this benefit to a number of Libyan-American students in the United States already.
7.(SBU) Personal connections lubricate many interactions in Libya, and the awarding of scholarships is no exception. In visa interviews, a few students with government scholarships admitted to having a relative working in the scholarship division or other government body. In one case, an applicant presented paperwork from Georgetown University stating he had a GOL scholarship for six months of English study only, despite being a recent high school graduate. He admitted that his brother-in-law, working at the Libyan embassy in Washington, secured him the scholarship. The applicant's sister had also received a scholarship and is studying in Washington, D.C. as well. Other well-placed Libyans have confirmed to Emboffs that such connections can be a deciding factor in the awarding of GOL scholarships. Despite this, the GOL appears to have placed an emphasis on geographic and gender diversity in its selection process, the results of which we clearly see at the visa window when interviewing the students.
Embassy Outreach Efforts
8.(SBU) The Public Affairs and Consular Sections have worked to leverage and enhance the GOL's interest in sponsoring graduate and doctoral study in the United States. In November 2009, we participated in the EducationLibya Fair, the country's largest annual academic trade show. The Embassy booth distributed IIP and EducationUSA-branded material and the Embassy's educational advisor met with students and parents to offer individual counseling and advisory services. The Embassy also organized an "America's Stage" space above the main Expo Floor where Emboffs provided briefings on various topics of interest to Libyan students, including an overview of admissions examinations, the student visa application process, and discussions on the wide variety of academic institutions and programs available to international students. In November 2010, we will organize the first-ever U.S. Educational Fair in collaboration with Linden Educational Services of Alexandria, VA. Al-Fateh University, Libya's premier national university, has indicated preliminary interest in co-sponsoring this fair and using the opportunity to develop academic ties with American institutions. In 2009, TRIPOLI 00000114 003.2 OF 003 despite repeated efforts by the Embassy, the GOL did not issue entry visas to the State Department's Regional Educational Advising Coordinator (REAC) and Regional English Language Officer (RELO), hampering our ability to offer pre-departure briefings and assist the Ministry of Education in better preparing students for their experiences in the United States. Public Affairs and Consular staff have held meetings within universities and private academic centers across the country to advocate for U.S. study and provide resources and guidance. Second-Order Effects
9.(SBU) The waves of Libyan students in the 1960s through early 1980s resulted in a flood of dual-national citizens, through marriages and births in the United States. Since our reopening of American Citizen Services in 2005, Libyans continue to pour in to the Embassy with tattered birth certificates and supporting documents to apply for first-time U.S. passports. Most speak little English and have not visited the United States since birth. We anticipate that the current increase in Libyan students in the U.S. will have a similar result.
10. (SBU) Additionally, a number of private businesses have arisen to meet the growing demand for student visa facilitation, particularly following the opening of U.S. non-immigrant visa issuance in Tripoli in March 2009. The largest of these businesses, Bousfeita Student Services (BSS), boasts several offices in Benghazi and Tripoli. British-Libyan owner Mohamed Ali Bousfeita told Conoff that his organization facilitated the travel of over 800 students to the United States in 2008 alone, the vast majority being GOL-sponsored. He toured 26 states to view schools and institutions to provide options for his clients and claims that study in the United States has quickly overtaken the UK, Australia, and New Zealand in popularity with Libyans since U.S.-Libyan diplomatic relations resumed. In addition, BSS has been designated the sole Kaplan agent for all of North Africa. His company and others charge high fees for filing SEVIS information and fees, completing the online DS-160 U.S. visa application, and scheduling the visa interview appointment. Students from the border city of Tobruq, for example, report paying over $300 for these services. Tobruq's Zogogo Student Services Company provides its clients with a detailed map and step-by-step procedures for the visa application process, including which windows in our Consular section provide which service, and the types of questions asked during the interview.
11. (SBU) Comment: In order to support Libya's growing study abroad programs, the Embassy continues to see academic advising and consular outreach as top-tier priorities within the mission. In 2010, we will continue to work with the Ministry of Education and Libyan universities to encourage Libyan students to select the United States as their place of study. The establishment of an American Center, American Corners, more-accessible Consular and Public Affairs sections, as well as the 2010 American University Fair will all help to promote the wide variety of educational opportunities that are in America and provide free, accurate information about U.S. visas. CRETZ