Canossian Sister Ervinia Martins Brito, rector of the Instituto Profissional de Canossa, signs an agreement for scholarships to be awarded to 20 students from disadvantaged families at her college. (Photo: Sister Brito)
Catholic-majority Timor-Leste has launched a special scholarship program for more than 900 students from disadvantaged families as part of government efforts to provide equal educational opportunities and promote higher education.
The program’s launch on May 17 coincided with the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the rectors of 15 public and private universities where the scholarship recipients will study.
Higher Education, Science and Culture Minister Longuinhos dos Santos said the government had set aside U$1.5 million for the program.
"The main objective is to ensure equal access to higher education for all Timorese citizens and to reduce poverty," he said.
He said the scholarships will be awarded by the Human Capital Development Fund (FDCH) in coordination with other related entities.
Leila Carceres, executive director of the FDCH, said 910 students will be awarded the scholarships, of whom 480 will study at the state-run National University of East Timor.
Many students have not been able to pay tuition fees
She said each student will receive funds to cover the cost of accommodation, food, transport and educational materials, while tuition fees will be transferred directly by the government to the universities.
Sister Ervinia Martins Brito, rector of the Instituto Profissional de Canossa in Dili, said 20 students at her college will be recipients of the aid.
"Funds will be given to them in the second semester in August," she told UCA News on May 18.
She said this was the first government scholarship program to include students at private institutions.
"We are not involved in determining the recipients. The government does so after assessing the economic situation of their families," the Canossian sister said.
She said the scholarships are very helpful considering the financial constraints faced by universities and parents due to the Covid-19 pandemic. "Many students have not been able to pay tuition fees," she said.
Of the 357 students on her campus, about half come from underprivileged families in rural areas, she said.
Timor-Leste is one of the poorest countries in the world with an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) per capita amounting to around $1,560 in 2019, according to the World Bank.
It also ranks 141 out of 187 countries in terms of the United Nations Human Development Index for 2020.
The number of people aged 17 and older in higher education stands at 13.7 percent, according to government figures.