Ministers have rejected pressure to restore spending on a scholarship programme for Commonwealth postgraduate students in Britain despite a strong call from a powerful committee of MPs.
In its response to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on the future of the Commonwealth, published this week, the Government indicates that it will continue to provide "substantial" support for Commonwealth students through the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan.
But it concedes that cuts in Overseas Development Administration and Foreign Office funding have led to less money for the scheme in 1996/97 and adds: "We expect that the numbers of new awards will be maintained at broadly the same level as in 1995/96."
Scheme administrators predict the number of Commonwealth students on awards at UK institutions will continue to decline. The number dropped from 909 in 1994/95 to an estimated 830 in 1995/96, with a further fall to just over 700 projected for 1996/97. In 1992/93 the scheme brought 987 postgraduates and academic staff from 49 countries at a cost to the Government of Pounds 14 million.
Arguing that numbers of Commonwealth students should be maintained, the committee stressed the importance of the scheme in building relationships between the UK and potential academic and industrial high-flyers who would be positively influenced by their time in the UK and expressed regret at cutbacks in a pan-Commonwealth scheme.
Students from 60 Commonwealth countries are supported through the scheme, with India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh among the principal sending countries. Nigerian students already at UK institutions are still receiving support despite their country's suspension from the Commonwealth but no new awards are being made.
In its response the Government said: "In the future allocations will take account of available resources and the level of support provided by other participating Commonwealth countries."
The Government has been frequently criticised for failing to keep faith with the 1983 Pym package, brokered in the aftermath of the introduction of full-cost fees for all overseas students, to allay fears among Commonwealth leaders.