Skip to main content

Education: Marshall Scholarships

Volume 721: debated on Monday 18 October 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what financial commitment they will make to support the Marshall scholarships scheme.

We strongly support the aims of the Marshall scholarships programme and we kept our funding at £2.2 million this year. We certainly intend to maintain the scholarships programme. We are discussing with the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission what level of financial support would sustain the programme. The commission is planning around a number of scenarios to prepare for candidate selection interviews in November. I cannot confirm the figure now, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not yet decided its own allocations between programmes, but we will do so as soon as possible after the 20 October announcement of the comprehensive spending review outcome.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer as far as it goes, which is not terribly far. Will he confirm that the HMG-funded scholarships under the Marshall scheme have been in steady decline in the past few years and are set to decline further? Does he not believe that that is an odd way for the British state to express its gratitude for a major act of generosity by the United States, which was, of course, the purpose for which the scheme was set up in the first place?

I wonder whether the noble Lord is right to take quite such a gloomy view. It is perfectly true that the numbers are down because the sums available have not covered so many scholars. However, there is no reason why in the longer term, as we cease to have to cut our cloth as sharply and as the nation becomes more prosperous, we should not return to a more expansive programme. On top of that, it is worth remembering that, outside such scholarships, there are many other forms of support. I am advised that, in British universities generally, the numbers of postgraduate Commonwealth and US students have been rising rapidly in recent years. That is one thing that the previous Government got right.

My Lords, as I was bicycling very recently along Trumpington, I thought about today’s Question. Does the Marshall scholarship bear any relation to the Commonwealth Fund of New York or the Harkness fellowship? Together, they are, I believe, well endowed. Would some sort of relationship among the three be of benefit to all three?

I am very glad indeed, as I am sure that we all are, to hear about the vigorous cycling activities of my noble friend. As to her question, those two categories are not ones with which our Marshall scholarships, Chevening scholarships, our own Commonwealth scholarships or other programmes are related. We wish those schemes well and they are very good programmes, but they are not directly related to our programmes, which we run from our various departments here.

My Lords, at a time when the so-called special relationship is quite often under threat, is the Minister aware of the important fact that there are 10 Marshall scholars in President Obama's Administration? Given what we know of the generosity of previous scholars—for example, their personal donations to British universities far outweigh the scholarship’s £2 million cost to the FCO—it is very important that the scheme should be maintained.

The noble Baroness is right to say that we must maintain the scheme. Obviously, we have to face up to the fact that we have to make economies everywhere, but she is right that we must maintain it. I had heard that the number of Marshall scholars in the Obama Cabinet was five, not 10, but perhaps there are some others. Certainly, one of the wisest of the Supreme Court judges is a very distinguished ex-Marshall scholar. The noble Baroness is quite right that we must maintain the scheme, but we have to face economic realities as well—everyone knows that.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that it is not just a question of the special relationship and diplomacy, very important as those things are, or of looking with gratitude to the past? Because those scholarships can be taken at any university in the United Kingdom and in a range of subjects, they are also an investment in the scientific co-operation between this country and our colleagues in the United States, which is one of the primary engines for future development.

I am sure that that is right, and I would extend the same thought to the Commonwealth scholarships and the vast spread of people going through our universities who go out into the new markets of the world that will dominate our prosperity in future. We want those people to look back to this country to order their equipment, to provide their services and to develop their professions and we want them to realise that we can continue to be the workshop and service counter of the world.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that, in a speech at the New York Stock Exchange on 22 September 2010, the Foreign Secretary said that,

“it is this extraordinary level of personal connection that makes the relationship between our two countries irreplaceable”?

Often, those relationships that are made as students, very early in life, are so important. Does the Minister agree that the Marshalls have played a strong role in that extraordinary level of personal connection? Does he not think that, were the scholarships to be reduced any further, that personal connection would suffer, maybe not next year but in 10 years’ or 15 years’ time?

One has to look at all the relationships as a whole. Certainly, I do not dispute for a moment that the Marshall scholarships are an important part, nor can I reject the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that their numbers have been falling. However, many other things have been increasing. As I mentioned earlier, under the Government of which the noble Baroness was a distinguished member, there was a dramatic increase in the number of US students in the United Kingdom. There are many other programmes, such as Fulbright and Gates, which make a contribution. I have to reveal to your Lordships that I stand here in the knowledge that I was supported by an American scholarship through my time at Cambridge, which may be welcome or not. Such scholarships are a feature of a whole network of relationships with the United States that we treasure greatly because we still regard the United States, through all its difficulties, as the home of liberty.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and of the Cambridge Overseas Trust. I seek to reinforce the point already made that the sum that my noble friend the Minister has mentioned is not large—it is a little more than £2 million. One consequence of such scholarships is to encourage the scholars subsequently to make contributions of importance to our universities and to encourage others to do the same. They have a big multiplying effect.

I totally endorse what my noble and learned friend says. They are a variable part of the overall scheme of our relationship for today and for tomorrow. We must work to sustain that.