CHEVENING scholars are postgraduate students who spend a year in a British university of their choice working on a specific research project.
A total of about 2,000 scholarships a year are awarded in countries all over the world. The programme was created four years ago to relaunch and augment existing scholarship schemes, bringing under a new heading scholarships which had been run from about 30 years ago by the British Council and from about 15 years ago by the Foreign Office.
Now some important Italian institutions have announced they will support Chevening scholars, thus raising the number of annual scholarships from Italy from about ten to 20.
The British embassy and British Council in Rome said that one of Italy's biggest banks, the Banca di Roma, and the national broadcasting authority, RAI, were each providing Pounds 7,000, and that two other banks were seriously considering making similar contributions. In addition, Italy's central bank has offered to finance some advertising.
Nial Cullens, embassy scholarships officer, said:"We are looking for very clever, very intelligent people who will make the most out of our universities and put a lot back in. We are trying to create a network of scholars and former scholars, hopefully high-fliers in their fields, who will contribute, in the long term, to links between Italy and the UK."
The response from Italian firms has been good, with hopes for half a dozen sponsors by the autumn. "We hope that each year this project will grow, and to reach a point where we have, say, 20 sponsors would be great," Mr Cullens said.
One of the main preoccupations on the British side has been that sponsors should not consider it their right to choose the student or students supported by their contribution. "We welcome suggestions from the sponsors, if they are aware of a deserving student," said Mr Cullens.
"But the final decision rests with the British selection board. We have set out to avoid direct patronage by the firms involved. We are not acting as an employment agency or training people on behalf of the sponsors."
Each year there are about 300 applications for Chevening scholarships. A first sift by the British Council reduces this to about 50. Then a second sift by the council and the embassy brings this down to about 30. They are interviewed by the selection board and about ten are finally chosen.
Sergio Lugaresi, of the research department of the Banca di Roma, said that his bank had decided to become a sponsor because of "our interest in high-quality training and because of the chance of contacting students with top-level training".
He added that his bank also valued "the possibility of establishing a relationship with the network of scholars and former scholars. We are also impressed by the seriousness of the project and of its selection criteria".
Matteo Ianisotto, 29, one of this year's scholars, works for the Bank of Italy in the Servizi Monetary e Finanziari. He joined the central bank with a degree in political science, but with an economics specialisation, from the University of Florence and in 1995 his employer allowed him to take two years off to study for a PhD.
Mr Ianisotto chose a project in exchange rates economics, specifically on the application of various models.
"I spent the first year, 1996/97, at Liverpool University and supported myself with my savings," Mr Ianisotto said. "Now, however, my supervisor is going to Oxford, so I applied for a Chevening scholarship to Oxford for the second year. I had heard about the scholarships by word of mouth and decided to apply and was accepted. From what I've seen so far the scheme seems very good. I was particularly impressed by the Pounds 400 which is set aside specifically for books."