'Morally wrong': UK Govt slammed for abandoning scholarships for Afghan students

15 August 2021, 10:37

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The UK Government has been criticised for telling Afghan students offered scholarships to study here from next month that they can no longer take up their places.

Due to the rapidly unfolding events in Afghanistan, the Foreign Office chose to pause 2021's cohort as the British Embassy in Kabul would not be able to finish the paperwork in time for the next academic year.

Highly competitive Chevening Scholarships allow bright students across the globe to complete a masters degree in the UK.

But with the Taliban blitzing through the central Asian nation, any prospective Afghan applicants have had their hopes of studying in Britain dashed following the government's decision.

Professor Anthony Glees - a British historian at the University of Buckingham - told LBC he is "deeply concerned" over the move and suggested these students could be targets of the militants.

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He said that although there will be an "enormous" humanitarian and refugee crisis following recent developments, the "real problem" for its citizens will come once the group is in control.

"It is then that they will, first of all, go after everybody who's got a link to the West who has helped us in some way or signified our interests," he said.

"Those of us in the university sector are deeply concerned that the British Foreign Office has decided that those bright Afghans who were awarded Chevening scholarships to come to the UK to study in a few weeks have been told they can no longer come here.

"That's a terrible, apparently minor, indication of the extent to which 'Global Britain', with its 'global' reach and its 'global' aircraft carrier, is absolutely powerless to help people who have put themselves at great risk."

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The decision has also been condemned by two former Conservative cabinet ministers, with David Lidington saying it was "morally wrong and against UK interests".

"Surely those accepted onto #Chevening will be at particular risk from Taliban & among 'brightest & best' whom our government rightly wants to attract to UK," the former cabinet office minister wrote on Twitter.

He also urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to review the situation "urgently".

Meanwhile, former international development secretary Rory Stewart said it was "deeply disappointing" that visas could not be sorted out.

"Surely someone can sort this out?" he asked.

A Foreign Office spokesperson has said all of 2021's applicants would be able to start their programme next year.

However, with the Taliban seizing most of the country and having now entered the capital, Kabul, the future of the scheme appears to be hanging in the balance.

Britain has begun deploying around 600 troops to Afghanistan to help UK nationals leave safely.

More than a quarter of a million people have been displaced by the violence, with many fleeing the city to find safety.