Go-ahead for Alfa contest

November 11, 1994

Contrary to your report (THES, November 4), the European Commission has approved Alfa, the academic training programme linking Europe and Latin America, with a budget of ECU40 million (32 million from the commission, the balance from participating institutions) over five years.

The first phase (budget ECU9 million) will run for 18 months from mid-1995, and will involve preparatory work for most of the scheme -- the exchange of postgraduates (budget ECU22 million). Institutions will be permitted to submit projects for grants under any phase of the programme, but common sense indicates that those that get involved at the outset are likely to be better-placed than others. Any valid application must involve a network of at least five institutions from separate countries, of which at least three are in the EU.

At this stage no individual university has been invited to submit a bid, not least because the final details of the scheme will not be published until November 30. In the meantime particular institutions have had talks with potential partners -- in Liverpool's case, for example, in Germany, Spain, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela -- on submitting projects once the hard book becomes available, but it is important to stress that the competition for funding will be open to all institutions of higher education in the EU and Latin America.

Clearly, such universities as Essex (and Liverpool, Cambridge, Glasgow, London and Oxford) with prestigious centres/institutes of Latin American studies enjoy some advantages, if they choose to submit bids, primarily because of their existing links with universities in Latin America.

However, these are qualified to some extent by the fact that Alfa specifically excludes the humanities and significant chunks of the social sciences -- areas in which the centres/institutes are strong -- and will provide scholarships only for students of engineering, medicine and applied social sciences.

John Fisher University of Liverpool.

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