The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses concern over acts of discrimination and a lack of transparency associated with the scholarship distribution system in Bahrain. The organization deems the system to be unjust, lacking transparency and preventing talented students with high GPAs and aspirations from pursuing further education.

 

Since 2011, the Ministry of Education has stopped publishing the names of students who received scholarships publicly in newspapers. On 18 July 2015, the results were endorsed by the Minister and were available to each student upon logging in to his or her account on the Ministry’s website. Since then, widespread public complaints about the results have been published over social media as well as mainstream media. For example, there are several cases of Shia students with GPAs over 90% who received no scholarship, but a mere grant of up to BDH400 (around €960) annually, which does not cover even a half of their tuition fees and cost of living. Around 600 students have scored over 95% GPA, and there were 2144 scholarship offered (2073 scholarships in Bahrain and 71 in other GCC countries). For example, Nawraa Abdulnabi is a student with 99.1% GPA who has requested to study medicine, but instead of a scholarship she was provided a grant. Zainab Mohamed, who also scored 99.1% and was looking to study medicine, has been provided with a scholarship in Nutrition.

 

Another flaw concerning the scholarship system implemented by the Ministry of Education is its process. In order to apply for a scholarship, the top students need to apply for 12 majors to which they aspire, a number far greater than their interests. The process of applying for a scholarship is based 60% on academic achievement and the remaining 40% depends on a personal interview. Some students recalled uncomfortable questions regarding politics and their support for the regime. This generates a very subjective assessment of one’s capability of receiving a scholarship, with a major focus revolving around awarding loyalty to the state of Bahrain.

 

Moreover, in some instances, instead of getting a scholarship, top students sometimes land in jail. The recent case of Mustafa Mohammed Ismael, a top Bahraini Shia student with a GPA averaging 98.8%, was arrested for allegedly taking part in an “illegal gathering” instead of being able to pursue his medical studies.   

 

These cases are alarming and BCHR suspects a breach of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states, “Everyone has the right of education. Higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Furthermore, Bahrain is a signatory of the International Convention on the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of the Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, which reads, “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.” It also says: “All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.”

 

The BCHR believes that the current scholarship distribution system lacks transparency, and its mechanism of awarding scholarships leaves room for practical discrimination based on opinion or sect.

 

Based on the information provided above, the BCHR urges the international community to pressure the Government of Bahrain to:

 

·     Reform the scholarship distribution system so that it is more effective, just and transparent;

·     Put an end to all possible discrimination related to religion and beliefs in the context of distributing the scholarships; and

·     Respect and obey the treaties and declarations signed which advocate for fair and equal accessibility to higher education based on academic merit only.

 

 

For more on Government Discrimination Against Shia in Bahrain, read BCHR’s latest report: Apart in Their Own Land.