Bahrain: Continued Attacks on the Right to Education: Discrimination in Scholarship Distribution

Majed Al Noaimi, Minister of Education

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses concern regarding the continued violation of the right to education. Following the mass pro-democracy protests of February 14 2011, students were subjected to systematic violations including but not limited to: arrests, torture, and suspension from schools and universities merely for their political and/or religious beliefs. The mentioned violations did not stop, and high school students are still being subjected to discrimination in scholarships distribution, based on their background and personal views.

In 2011, The Ministry of Education initiated a new method for distributing scholarships. Instead of basing it fully on academic merit, it has taken a different route by forming a Scholarship Distribution Committee that supposedly focuses on the student’s personal opinions, capabilities and preferences with a personal interview. The interview accounts for 40% of the award decision, and the remaining 60% is based on academic achievement. Students had to choose 12 different majors they were interested in, which is a number too big to cover their interests, thus forcing them to choose majors far from their aspirations in order to finish their registration. The BCHR documented in a report it published in 2011 cases of high achievers getting their 10th or even 12th choice; some were not even granted scholarships despite their high GPAs. (Read more about the process and cases of discrimination in 2011: The new process was implemented in 2012 and more cases of discrimination in scholarship distribution were reported. Despite students’ complaints and the obvious discrimination in the distribution mechanism, especially in regards to the interviews, the same method and criteria have been implemented this year.

In these interviews that are supposedly set up to determine the students’ interests as stated by the Ministry of Education, students said that instead of being asked about their desired major or future aspirations in the interview, they were asked questions that were politically motivated, dwelling on nationalism and loyalty to the government. They were asked what Bahrain meant to them, how they planned to represent Bahrain internationally if they were given scholarships abroad and the meaning of nationalism to them. Some have reportedly been asked if they have detained relatives and others were asked their opinion about the Financial Harbor, owned by the Prime Minister of 41 years, and their view of the major events that occurred in the last four years, referring to Feb14 uprising. Clearly, none of these questions are related to their education.

In 2011 and 2012, many students with high GPAs did not receive governmental scholarships in their desired area of studies although they met the criteria. However, other non-governmental entities, groups and organizations offered some high academic achievers scholarships to pursue studies in their desired field. This year, on the 23rd of June 2013, and in the Cabinet meeting in the presence of the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister, the importance that all educational scholarships to get the approval of the Ministry of Education and follow the regulations set by the Ministry of Education was emphasized. (Read More on:

The BCHR believes that the current scholarship distribution mechanism and criteria are unfair and have been put in place to put more restrictions to prevent or make it more difficult for students with differing views from the government from completing their higher education. This mechanism especially targets students from the majority Shia sect in the country.

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

  • Cancel the Ministry’s new method of distribution of scholarships, where 40% accounts to a personal interview and 60% to academic achievement. This includes dissolving the Scholarship Distribution Committee, which reportedly practices sectarian discrimination.
  • Commit to International Human Rights conventions and organizations that state everyone should have the right to education with no discriminations.
  • Hold those responsible from the Ministry of Education for sectarian discrimination accountable.