Bath University, one of the pioneers of British sports scholarships in the 1970s, is to set up a dedicated rugby scheme in partnership with the city's club.
The first scholar, second-year mechanical engineer Richard Butland, who plays outside half for Bath RFC, has already been appointed. The university plans to be able to offer eight places every year.
Ged Roddy, head of sports science at the university and player development coach at Bath RFC, said: "It isn't easy to combine top-class sport with academic studies. Our aim is to do that by giving students more time and flexibility, with four years to complete courses and academic work more concentrated in the off-season."
Students will also be able to use the dedicated training, physiotherapy, medical and advice services offered by the university - each student has a mentor in the sports department and will live on campus in a scholarship house:
"We want to provide them with a stable environment which allows them to concentrate on two things, their studies and their sport," said Dr Roddy.
The creation of the scholarships, sponsored by Western Freights and costing more than Pounds 500,000 over the next eight years, is in part a consequence of Rugby Union's decision last summer to go professional. "Being amateur wasn't a problem when it came to scholarships, but going professional places more of an onus on clubs to make themselves as attractive as possible to good players," added Dr Roddy.
The decision on whether or not to admit applicants will lie finally with the university, but Dr Roddy expects that the scholarship applications process, in which both Bath RFC and Western Freights will have a say, will run roughly in tandem with the university process.
Jon Sleightholme, who graduated in physical education from Bath last year, made a successful debut for England against France last Saturday, and Dr Roddy hopes the scheme will produce a stream of successors for club and country.