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Libyan student update

Posted By: OISS    Published: Friday, 24 Jun 2011

As a globally engaged university in the 21st century, Michigan State University has been mindful of U.S. strategic interests in expanding higher education collaborations and programming in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. As an institution of higher learning, MSU believes there is great value in helping, and even a responsibility to help, build relationships between people of different backgrounds, cultures and countries.

In 2006, the U.S. re-established diplomatic relations with Libya, including higher education. MSU’s programs are provided to Libyan citizens who have qualified for college admissions or were identified through a Libyan government nationally advertised scholarship program.

Libya has recently experienced great political unrest, which has directly affected the two cohorts of Libyan citizens studying at MSU.

The first group comprises degree-seeking students whose tuition, fees, living expenses and health insurance are funded by The Libyan Ministry of Education and Scientific Research. In March, these 26 students were informed by the Canadian Bureau for International Education, which administers their scholarships, that the U.S. government had frozen Libyan assets. As such, the living allowance for June would not be forthcoming.

On behalf of the students, MSU continuously monitored the situation and communicated with key stakeholders. On June 22, CBIE confirmed it had received funds from the Libyan Ministry of Education and Scientific Research to continue the Libyan-North American Scholarship Program through May 2012. CBIE is currently processing the June living allowance and outstanding tuition payments.

The second group of Libyans affected by the turmoil in Libya is those participating in the Visiting International Professional Program. VIPP is a non-degree professional education and training program specifically designed for mid-level career professionals from around the globe. They are provided training in English language skills needed to function in a diplomatic environment along with broad knowledge of international relations, diplomatic history, diplomatic protocols and communications, and a good familiarity of American culture, society and political values. MSU currently provides such training to 20 Libyans, who have 24 dependents.

The Libyan government unit handling this process is known as the National Economic Development Board, an entity of the Libyan government responsible for developing and arranging non-degree training. On March 29, MSU received notice from the NEDB that effective March 31 the Libyan VIPP would end. At the same time, Libyan assets were frozen. The participants were about halfway through their two-year program, which started January 2010.

To help participants adjust to the unexpected end of their program, MSU immediately set up a series of information sessions to discuss their concerns and options. The VIPP participants are studying here under J-1 visas, which are granted to visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange and specialized training. Per visa requirements, J-1 visa holders must be enrolled in an academic program. To allow the VIPP participants as much time as possible to explore options, MSU first extended their program to May 6 and then again to June 15.

MSU also provided humanitarian support to VIPP participants and their dependents by providing temporary and transitional housing and food assistance, as well as health insurance, using non-general fund dollars. The university has extended that assistance until June 30.

The sudden lack of funds caused great financial constraint for the program participants and their families so, when possible, MSU offered assistance to students who needed to break leases, moving them into campus housing.

Since March 31, MSU has been communicating with the U.S. Department of State and employing university resources in Washington, D.C., to seek assistance with visa status and the unfreezing of funds. To date, Libyan assets remain frozen by the U.S. government.

Several VIPP participants are seeking asylum, and MSU has referred students to the law firm of Foster Swift Collins and Smith, which has offered to coordinate legal counseling their behalf. Some program participants have chosen to return home, and MSU has provided airfare for them and their dependents. MSU will do the same for those still wishing to return to a reasonable location of their choosing, such as Tunisia, where they will have access to their funds.

In accordance with visa regulations, VIPP participants can only remain legally in the U.S. for 30 days after the end of their program. The unexpected and sudden turn of events has caused emotional hardship for some Libyans, so MSU has coordinated counseling and access to community resources as requested.

To support the emergency needs of Libyan students and their families, MSU has established the Libyan Student Fund. Donations in support of Libyan students at MSU can be made by check, cash or credit card, or by using the university giving site on the web at www.givingto.msu.edu/gift.

Please make your check payable to MSU and note the designation "Libyan Student Fund" in the remarks section of your check. Checks can be mailed to Michigan State University, University Development, 300 Spartan Way, East Lansing, MI 48824.

MSU has been committed to helping both cohorts of Libyan citizens navigate a very difficult and emotional situation. We care about their welfare and will continue to support them to the best of our ability while they remain on campus.

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