The University of Southampton, in the United Kingdom, has complained about the lack of dedication from Brazilian students in government-sponsored the Science Without Borders Program (SwB). Last Saturday, scholarship-holders at the institution received an email from the SwB UK saying it had been notified by the university of “the large number of complaints about attendance and engagement.
“It is very disappointing to us to learn that performance has been low, and that [students] have not worked hard. […] This, however, does not hold true for everyone. I would like to ask [those in this situation] to work harder and fulfill all commitments made,” the message reads.
SwB UK also requested from the university a list with the names of scholarship-holders who are insufficiently diligent. The University of Southampton is regarded among the world’s most renowned universities for research. In 2013, it welcomed 38 Brazilian students as part of the initiative and is yet to receive 33 others.
Denise Leal, an engineering student who had her name mentioned on the list, said, “I found the message offensive, as I have shown engagement, but I see their point. Most students in the program do not engage very actively because the Brazilian government doesn’t demand anything from them in exchange.
“If you want to study, you go ahead and study. If you don’t, you travel, because the government doesn’t require any results. The money granted is more than enough, so they’d rather travel and skip classes, as there’s no roll call,” she declared.
When questioned, SwB UK sent an email saying that the message “should not have gone to all the students at the university. This was an administrative error,” adding that “UK Universities regularly tell us how diligent, hardworking and high-calibre SwB students are.
Many have won prizes and awards, whilst others have been featured in the media both in the UK and Brazil; Brazilian students are also helping to build long-term links and research partnerships.”
The Science Without Borders Program was launched in 2011, with the purpose of granting 100 thousand international scholarships in the fields of technology, health, the exact sciences, mathematics, chemistry and biology, engineering, up to the end of 2014. In the program’s next stage, from 2015 to 2018, over 100 thousand scholarships are expected to be granted.
The problem of students that use scholarship money for non-academic purposes is not restricted to the UK. Medical student Mário Vasconcelos, who took part in the program by going to a German university, said that he would “take whichever tests we wanted. There were no demands from Brazil. All I had to prove was my return,” he revealed, adding that, during his stay abroad, he “met a lot of people who didn’t attend a single class.”
Carolina Marques, who went to Australia, declared that “over 50 percent of scholarship-holders do not take their studies seriously. That was so much the case that when I left Australia I felt embarrassed to say I had participated in the program. I ended up avoiding being among Brazilians, because many of them openly said they were there to travel and use up the money from the scholarship.”
The Science Without Borders Program (Ciência sem Fronteiras) is moving to a new phase offering over 100,000 scholarships for study at overseas universities between 2015 and 2018, President Dilma Rousseff announced at the end of June.
Introduced in 2011, the scheme aims to encourage Brazilian students and researches to pursue international academic experiences and attract young, highly qualified researchers and senior faculty from other countries to Brazil.
The initial milestone was to provide 101,000 scholarships – 75,000 funded by the public sector, and 26,000 funded by businesses in the private sector. So far, 83,184 have been granted.
According to the president, this target will be met as new grants are awarded in September. 5,200 scholarships were approved by businesses, among which 5,000 will be provided by Petrobras.
“We are heading for a gradual integration between this and all other education, research and technology programs in Brazil. The scheme was designed to help Brazil drive innovation,” the president said.
The Education Minister, Henrique Paim, announced the outcomes of the program. Out of the total scholarships provided, 52% range between diverse fields in engineering. “It is a breakthrough for our country as we still struggle to advance in these areas.”
Paim went on to highlight the contribution of foreign researchers in Brazil. “As we have students coming from overseas, we realized that we still have to review and rethink our higher education. Out there they have a more hands-on approach, and that’s what we’re working on, too.”
The Science Without Borders is a policy of the Ministry of Education, which partners with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation in 65% of the total scholarships provided. Priority areas are Hard Sciences, Maths, Chemistry, and Biology, Engineering, Technology, and Health Sciences.
After harshly criticizing the Brazilian scholarship-holders under the Science Without Borders (SwB) Program, the University of Southampton, England, apologized by e-mail to all students for the message sent through SwB UK, which runs the program in the UK, complaining about students’ lack of engagement. The university said that the note should not have reached all 38 SwB students whose participation in the program began in 2013.
“I understand the frustration and confusion this may have caused, especially due to the dedication you have had,” read the message, signed by Sara Higgins, from the university’s international department. She added she had already requested an apology from SwB UK, but said only eight exchange students received it.
On Thursday (Sep 18), after being informed of SwB UK’s e-mail, President Dilma Rousseff expressed support for the SwB Program, one of the main initiatives in her administration, by underscoring that those who have not showed diligence “are regretfully discrediting the country,” and that students must prove to be really dedicated before they are afforded a scholarship overseas by the government.
Higgins said that the institution “is proud to be part of the program, and hopes to welcome an increasingly large number of high-caliber students.” The University of Southampton ranks among the leading universities for researchers.