Don't scrap Orsas - save it

August 21, 2008

At a time of increasing international competition to capture the best young researchers, the decision by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to dispense with the Overseas Research Student Awards Scheme (Orsas) is puzzling ("Overseas student awards scrapped", 7 August).

The reasons given by Hefce include the statement that "many of the recipients had Orsas funding as part of a larger package of support put together by the higher education institution from several sources and might not be aware that they were receiving Orsas funding at all".

As Orsas funding covered only the difference between home/European Union fees and so-called overseas fees and made no provision for either home/EU fees or subsistence costs, this statement is at best an example of cynical spin and at worst a failure by Hefce to understand its own funding scheme.

Mixed messages are being sent from the UK to the best prospective young international researchers. On one hand there is the Prime Minister's positive initiative and on the other this cut in funding provision.

This will surely cause confusion and is likely to lead to fewer of the best prospects choosing this country to begin their research careers, with the consequence being the loss in our long-term competitiveness in the global knowledge economy. It is to be hoped that this poor decision in England is not replicated by the other home countries and that Hefce will reconsider its position.

Malcolm McCrae, Chair, UK Council for Graduate Education.

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