When Brazil unveiled its new study-abroad scheme in 2011, it was described as a pioneering plan to improve science and technology innovation by sending 101,000 top students to universities in the UK and elsewhere.
But two years after the Science without Borders (SwB) initiative was launched, questions have been asked about its success in attracting the desired numbers of participants.
The brainchild of President Dilma Rousseff, the scheme aimed to recruit 75,000 young people with publicly funded bursaries, with a further 26,000 places to be funded privately.
British universities were expected to host around 10,000 Brazilian students over four years.
However, it has now been claimed that a number of students in receipt of other scholarships have been included in the programme to meet the government’s ambitious targets, despite not having undergone the selection process.
Of the 280 Brazilian students approved for PhD programmes overseas in 2012-13, at least 60 appeared on the list of SwB participants without having been officially selected, Folha de São Paulo, a newspaper in Brazil’s biggest city, reported.
Some claimed they had not applied for the programme, while three said they had been rejected.
André Hallack, a DPhil student in healthcare innovation at the University of Oxford, said he had applied for two “practically equal” scholarships, one of which was the SwB programme.
Mr Hallack had already accepted a funded place offered by the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes), a public foundation established within Brazil’s Ministry of Education in the 1950s, when he learned he had been accepted by SwB.
He told Times Higher Education: “I received my approval from Capes in July 2012 and around a month later I was approved for Science without Borders. My course at Oxford started in August.
“After that, I was contacted by someone at Capes to say that, essentially, those on the Capes scheme were actually the same as those on SwB: we constituted the same intake.”
Mr Hallack added: “The process of being accepted by each programme is a bit different, as I suspect SwB wants to lure a broader audience and create more business opportunities for Brazil when the students come back. But if you analyse both of the scholarships, they are basically the same thing.”
In an email sent to students last month, Capes says all scholars who meet the criteria and profile of SwB candidates “are considered compliant to the programme, with all the benefits to which they are entitled”.
It claims that the move aims to provide “equality” in the treatment of beneficiaries.
A spokeswoman for the SwB programme denies that the apparent merging of the scholarships is an attempt to boost numbers.
In a statement, she says: “Since [SwB’s] launch in 2011, all grantees who have the profile and belong to the priority areas of Science without Borders are considered adherent to the SwB scheme, since it makes no sense to give different treatment to applicants in identical situations.”
The Ministry of Education added that it is on course to surpass its target of 45,000 scholarships offered through SwB by the end of this year.