A Brazilian funding agency has denied claims that it has repeatedly fallen behind on payments to universities for students on its Science Without Borders exchange programme.
Claims of late fee payments emerged last week on the eve of president Dilma Rousseff’s visit to Washington DC to meet with president Barack Obama.
Sources told the Folha de São Paulo newspaper that outstanding payments to US institutions had surpassed $300 million (£195 million) for the first half of this year, with about $40 million still owed from the second half of last year. A source with links to the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes) – which manages payments for the scheme – told Times Higher Education that Brazil’s government had owed university fees as recently as the last Capes board meeting in March.
There are currently more than 22,000 Brazilian students on placements at US institutions, the most popular country for those with scholarships. Payments for Science Without Borders places go from Capes to the Institute of International Education in the US, which then passes them on to partner universities.
According to reports, a deal was struck in May to pay off the most urgent debts and a small part of the outstanding payments from last year. A second payment was said to have been agreed for 29 June, before Ms Rousseff met Mr Obama on 30 June.
“The delays were a big concern but after the payments were restarted, we’re a bit more at ease. We’ll see how it goes,” an anonymous US source told Folha.
The US consulate in Rio de Janeiro declined to comment on the reports, referring enquiries to Capes, which denied the claims.
In a statement, the agency insisted that it was up to date with payments and said: “All transfers of funds previously agreed were completed. The latest instalment, the equivalent of $49 million, took place on 25 June.” It added that payments for all student scholarships on the programme were also up to date and therefore it “does not follow” that there were “allegations of delays in the payment of scholarships or academic fees”.
Brazil launched Science Without Borders in 2011 as an exchange scheme to send 101,000 Brazilian students to institutions abroad, with 75,000 funded by the government and 26,000 by private initiatives.
It is estimated that British universities will receive 10,000 Science Without Borders students between 2012 and 2016.
The programme is managed in the UK by the UK Higher Education International Unit, on behalf of Universities UK, and payments are made by a different funding body, the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), to the unit before being passed to universities.
A spokeswoman for the International Unit said: “A series of comprehensive checks is undertaken by both the IU and CNPq to ensure that the money is transferred in a timely manner.”
The payment schedule was not typical for UK universities but there had not been any “significant delays” in universities receiving their money, she added.
Last year, Capes was accused of breaching Science Without Borders contracts after recalling more than 100 students from Canada and Australia for failing to reach entry requirements, including English proficiency.
There have also previously been suggestions that education authorities were including students on other scholarship programmes in the Science Without Borders scheme to meet targets.