About 70 Brazilian students at the University of Southampton were sent an email telling them to pull their weight or risk losing their place on a prestigious international placement programme.
The UK Higher Education International Unit, which administers the Brazilian government’s Science Without Borders programme in Britain, has apologised for the email, which it says was sent in error.
The email states that Southampton received “a considerable” number of complaints from faculty regarding the attendance and work ethic of Science Without Borders students, and that results for some participants were not up to scratch.
It also suggests that the institution could withdraw from Science Without Borders in future - which the university denies - and says that students who were deemed to have underperformed might have to pay towards the cost of their scholarship.
Since 2011, when Science Without Borders launched, the UK has attracted more than 8,500 Brazilian undergraduate and postgraduate students through the scholarship scheme. It is the second most popular destination for students on the programme, behind only the US.
About 70 Southampton students – last year’s cohort of 38 and the 33 who are starting this year – received the email.
A spokeswoman for the UK Higher Education International Unit said that the body does on occasion contact students if an issue relating to performance has been flagged.
“However, the email sent to students at Southampton…should not have been sent,” she said. “This was an error, for which we apologise.” She stressed that Brazilian students on the programme were “a real asset” to UK higher education.
A spokesman for Southampton said that the university had not experienced widespread performance issues with Science Without Borders students, and insisted that the institution was not considering ending its participation.
“We’re very pleased to be engaged in SWB and excited about the prospects that the programme brings for the university and for the students,” he said.
It is not the first time that aspects of Science Without Borders have been called into question. Speaking to Times Higher Education earlier this year, Marcelo Knobel, associate professor at the State University of Campinas’ Gleb Wataghin Institute of Physics, said it was widely known within Brazilian academia as “tourism without borders”.
So far, more than 83,000 placements have been delivered by the scheme overall.