I met the Minister for Europe recently and discussed this issue. Officials in my Department and in the Foreign Office have followed up this meeting by meeting representatives of Universities UK and the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. As a result, the FCO, UUK and my Department are working together with other Government Departments and representatives of British business to look at ways of maximising the impact of scholarships, including exploring the potential for alternative funding of doctoral awards for developed Commonwealth countries.
I think that I am a little encouraged by that answer. The Minister will know that there has been great distress in many organisations in this country and around the Commonwealth at the FCO’s cutting off of the funding for postgraduate scholarships from developed Commonwealth countries. May I ask Ministers to continue those discussions and if necessary to work out a new way of providing funding from the Government if it cannot come from the old FCO source? Will they also try to have as an objective our continuing to have the best and brightest of scholars from all over the Commonwealth who could not themselves afford to come here, so that we build for the future not just the academic links but the international friendships that are fundamental to our foreign policy, as well as to international education and skill development?
The hon. Gentleman’s underlying point about the importance of the globalisation of higher education and the benefit of overseas students coming to this country and building long-lasting relationships is important. However, it is important to make it clear that, overall, Government funding for the Commonwealth scholarships is not being cut. The Foreign Office is reducing its funding, but the Department for International Development is significantly increasing its. Overall, by the end of this spending review period, funding for the Commonwealth scholarships will be £2.7 million higher than it was in 2007-08. There is an increase, but we need to get the balance right, and discussions to ensure that we manage the change effectively are ongoing.