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Commonwealth Scholarship Commission

Volume 621: debated on Tuesday 30 January 2001

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2.53 p.m.

What discussions they are having with the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom about planning future developments of the scheme.

My Lords, the commission has now submitted to the Secretary of State for International Development its report which she requested, which is a review of the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships Plan and its contribution to international development. This makes a number of recommendations for improving the effectiveness of the CSFP and enhancing its contribution to development. The Secretary of State will be meeting shortly with the chairman of the CSC to discuss these findings and their implementation.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the recent report of the United Kingdom Scholarship Commission, which was submitted to the Commonwealth Education Ministers in Canada, provides dramatic factual evidence of how many of those who received United Kingdom Commonwealth scholarships have gone on to take up leading positions in their own countries? To use the department's phrase, "Many of them have become trainers of trainers in their own country". Will the Government therefore explore positively how we can build on this British success story and adapt the scholarship scheme to meet the needs of the modern Commonwealth?

My Lords, a report on the CSFP was discussed by Commonwealth Education Ministers at their triennial conference in Halifax. They made a number of proposals to change the administration of the scheme which were designed, for example, to raise the profile of the plan to increase the number of participating countries; to expand its flexibility; to improve communication and overall co-ordination; and, in particular, to strengthen partnerships in the nomination and selection of candidates. The DfID's review of the scheme has come up with a number of recommendations which dovetail with that. We shall be looking at those recommendations. Obviously the Secretary of State's meeting with the chairman of CSC will be important in that respect. We will then come forward with recommendations as to how we can ensure that the scheme dovetails with our development objective.

I agree with the noble Lord as regards the substantial impact that the scholarships have had. It is pleasing to know that 95 per cent of participants from developing countries continue to work in those countries after the scholarship has been completed.

My Lords, will the Minister join me in welcoming the steps taken by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in recent years to promote genuinely shared provision between UK universities and those from developing countries. Does she agree that measures such as split-site qualifications have immense potential to raise long-term capacity in recipient countries as well as benefiting the individual scholars?

My Lords, we agree that some of the developments—for example, split-site qualifications—have been very successful. Some of the review's recommendations will go further down that road. We are looking to develop the long-term capacity and skills of students from developing countries so that they can make a contribution to the development of their own countries, either when they return to those countries or through the process of split-site education.

My Lords, can the Minister think of any way of assisting potential scholars in countries where there is no freedom of expression, bearing in mind that in the past the CSFP was based on the principle that nominations come only from governments? Will the Government consider the possibility that nominations could be made by qualified NGOs of suitable recipients in countries such as Zimbabwe where there is a lack of freedom of expression?

My Lords, that is a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised with me in November last year. It is true that at present national agencies in each Commonwealth country are responsible for submitting nominations. So candidates who are, for example, persona non grata in their own country are unlikely to be nominated. In the review of the scheme we are considering, in consultation with the Hugh Pilkington Charitable Trust, whether changes should be made to address that problem.

The noble Lord talked in particular about NGOs. A limited number of applications from DfID local offices, local NGOs and agencies working with groups such as refugees could possibly be submitted directly to the CSC in London. We are currently looking at that possibility.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that education and learning are the hoops which bind our commonwealth together and give it more power and influence in the global context? Does she recall that when her government came to office one of the big upgrades in the Foreign and Commonwealth Mission Statement was that the Commonwealth would have much more prominence? Yet it seems that the numbers in the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships Plan are shrinking. Can she tell us when, in line with government rhetoric and declarations, that will be reversed and we shall see more people involved under the scheme?

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord is not aware that the UK is the largest contributor to CSFP. We have provided two-thirds of total awards under the scheme over the past three years. The noble Lord will recall that DfID has prioritised the whole area of basic education because of our commitment to meeting the universal primary education target. In the past three years we have spent £500 million in developing countries on promoting universal primary education. So the Government have certainly put their money where their mouth is.