OIL GIANT Shell is providing Pounds 10 million for students from developing countries to study for a masters degree at six top universities.
Launched as part of its centenary celebrations, the scheme will cater for at least 50 students studying science, engineering, economics and management. Twelve places will be funded jointly by the government under the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Chevening scholarship scheme. The six universities delivering the one-year courses are Durham, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, University College London and Imperial College.
Julian Oliver, head of social investment at Shell, said the scheme was "much more altruistic" than similar Shell initiatives.
"Shell Centenary Scholarships are not aimed at furthering our recruitment programme. We want to help build leadership capability in developing countries." Students from any country not belonging to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development will be eligible for the scheme.
Shell had found that, although undergraduate provision was good, many developing countries did not have postgraduate masters courses of the type being offered by the six universities. Mr Oliver said: "It is not so much that we have identified a gap. If these students did not come here they would go to other countries such as the United States, Germany, France and Switzerland."
Shell is expecting a high level of interest in the scheme from countries such as India, China and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Timothy Seller, director of the international office at Imperial College, London, said the scheme would give able but deprived students a chance. "We will be looking at the potential of the student and their economic need as much as at their academic credentials. We regard this as a highly prestigious scheme to be involved in."
The Pounds 10 million has been set up as an endowment and there will be a review after three years. Mr Oliver said: "We have already had several other universities expressing interest. We may eventually expand the number of universities involved."
Primary responsibility for marketing and promoting the scheme will rest with the universities involved. But Shell, which operates in 130 countries, will also use its resources to complement the universities' efforts.