Chevening scholars call on UK to reinstate Afghan programme

Closure mirrored US government decision to suspend Fulbright programme to Afghanistan, which it subsequently reversed

September 28, 2022
Afghanistan protest in London
Source: Alamy

Recipients of the UK’s Chevening scholarship have urged the government to consider reopening the scheme to Afghan participants.

Petitioners say the decision to close the programme for Afghanistan in 2023-24 has cut off access to one of few opportunities for vulnerable scholars seeking to leave the extremist regime.

“Their only hope is the international community, and seeing that Chevening is abandoning them is just devastating,” states the petition, which has garnered more than 860 signatures.

The plea comes more than a year since the programme’s current cohort was evacuated from the country. The Cheveners were among dozens of vulnerable Afghans aboard the final planes to depart in the chaos before US forces withdrew.

Naimat Zafary, a PhD scholar at the University of Sussex who left with a Chevening group last year, said he and other Afghan participants on the programme would be willing to work with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which administers the scheme, to extend it to new applicants.

While he acknowledged that “it is hard for any Chevening selection process to be run in the usual way”, he said Cheveners believe it is important to “reopen the process in some form”.

“The Chevening scholarship has never been more important to Afghanistan,” said Mr Zafary.

Ruth Arnold, a co-founder of the #WeAreInternational campaign to recognise the value of international education in the UK, who has been advocating for Chevening alumni, echoed the sentiment.

“To pause that opportunity and hope in any country is a real blow,” she said. “It is especially hard for the extraordinary women of Afghanistan who are facing such severe barriers to education and yet who are so talented and driven to build a better society.”

She noted that at-risk alumni hiding with their families are still waiting for the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, which the UK government formally opened in January, to be rolled out.

The UK’s Chevening scheme is not the first prestigious international scheme to close its operations in Afghanistan.

This January, the US government suspended its Fulbright scholarships for Afghans, citing safety concerns. Following public outcry, it reversed the decision two months later, allowing Afghans to take part in the scheme.

But even as these US and UK high-profile initiatives have questioned whether they should accept Afghans, other schemes have been created to help them.

Most recently, a partnership of non-profit organisations launched the Qatar Afghan Scholarship Project. The programme will make it possible for 250 displaced Afghan students to go to US colleges and universities, with its first cohort this autumn to be split evenly between men and women.

Times Higher Education has contacted the FDCO for comment.

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