Canada scholarships face uncertain future

Treasury review poses threat to Commonwealth bursary schemes, write Philip Fine and David Jobbins

Canada has put a flagship Commonwealth scholarship scheme on hold only months before ministers are due to discuss how to celebrate the scheme's 50th anniversary in 2009.

A decision by Canada's Treasury Board to suspend its C$13.5 million (£6.4 million) a year funding in June 2007 also applies to the prestigious Fulbright Awards.

Scholarships for the 2007-08 academic year are under threat, but the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered the Treasury to review its decision. Officials stressed that a decision on long-term participation had yet to be taken.

But John Kirkland, secretary of the UK Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, said: "Given the timescales involved, it now appears unlikely that any Commonwealth Scholarships will be available for UK students in Canada starting in October 2007. "It has been stressed to us by the High Commission, however, that no such decision has been taken for future years."

In 2004-05, 40 UK scholars held Commonwealth scholarships in Canada, with 44 Canadian students on scholarships in the UK. Despite the decision, the UK commission decided to invite nominations from Canadian students for scholarships in the UK in 2007. There was some optimism in Canada that the Government would restore the funding, perhaps as early as next month.

Jim Fox, president of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, said people close to the decision-makers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the Treasury backed the schemes and predicted that the suspension would not last.

"When we first heard about this, our suspicion was that they were going to be cutting international scholarships," Mr Fox said. "But when we started lobbying and going into various offices, we heard completely the opposite."

Mr Fox, whose association handles C$5 million of Commonwealth scholarships each year, spoke to an influential member of the governing Conservative Party, Senator Hugh Segal. Mr Segal told him he believed academic exchange programmes had fallen under a wide range of grants and contributions the Government was committed to look at.

Mr Fox suggested that the Government could not guarantee funds until the spending review was complete. He believes that a statement from Mr Harper and other G8 leaders this summer, committing them to "enhance existing programmes of exchange", was "out of synch" with cutting these programmes.

Education ministers are to discuss how to mark the Commonwealth scholarship scheme's 50th anniversary in 2009 when they meet in Cape Town in December.

Mr Kirkland said: "The scheme was very much designed in Canada, and we hope they will continue as active members."

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