I am writing to you as Chairman of the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. The Committee considered the Marshall Scholarships Order 2017 at its meetings on 13 and 20 December, and included a commentary on it in its 13th Report.
At the Committee’s request, your department has provided some additional information about the Order, for which many thanks. The Committee, however, remains concerned about aspects of the Marshall Scholarship scheme and would welcome further explanation.
The Committee’s particular concern is the “back to back” option, whereby students are funded to undertake two Masters degrees, one after the other. We found the brief explanation provided by your department of why the option is offered – namely, that a US Masters usually take two years, unlike a UK Masters – wholly unpersuasive. Added to which, we wonder why it would not be preferable to extend the scheme to more students by offering funding for one Masters degree, thereby – presumably – opening up the opportunity of funding to twice the number of students.
We note your department’s comment that the “back to back” offer is provided by other scholarship programmes, such as the Rhodes scholarships. We question the relevance of this comparison given that it is our understanding that the Rhodes scholarships are funded from endowments and not by the taxpayer.
The adequacy of funding for British university students is a subject of continuing debate. In this context, our queries about the increase in subsidy for the Marshall Scholarship by the taxpayer is particularly pertinent. Please could you provide a full explanation of why the “back to back” option continues to be offered, including whether the option we have suggested above has been considered and why you regard a scholarship scheme not funded by the taxpayer as a relevant comparator.
The Committee would be grateful to receive your response to these concerns by Friday 12 January 2018.
21 December 2017
Many thanks for your letter of 21 December regarding the Marshall Scholarships Order 2017.
I am grateful for the genuine interest you and your fellow Committee members are taking in this issue and welcome the opportunity to respond to your heartfelt concerns.
As you know, our university sector represents a great British global success story. The international reputation of our leading research-orientated universities is truly world class. For some years the UK Government has sought to build on this asset in our public diplomacy and will be committed to doing so post-Brexit. The provision of graduate scholarships under the Chevening and Commonwealth Programmes, as well as Marshall, will remain a significant element of our long term ‘soft power’ strategy.
The Marshall Scholarship Programme has developed into a valuable asset for the UK, first by creating a body of American alumni of great distinction who have a deep and well-informed understanding of the UK, and secondly in underlining the instinct to see merit in a strong and purposeful Anglo-American relationship.
From the outset, Marshall Scholarship awards have normally been for two years, enabling the ‘back to back’ master’s courses. In terms of a Scholar’s experience, a two-year award is of real value. It is often only in the second year that a deep appreciation of the UK is developed. Second-year Scholars also help first-year Scholars to ‘find their feet’, thereby more quickly taking up the opportunities of the Programme. Time helps to develop enduring bonds of friendship with other British students and within the scholarship group. Finally, from the academic point of view, two years creates more meaningful opportunities for learning, research and development, and there can be particular value in studying at two different institutions.
Scholars can opt to take up a one year award, and a handful tend to do this each year, particularly when the individuals concerned plan further studies back in the US; for example at a Law School, Medical School or on a doctoral programme. Conversely, another handful of Scholars will plan to study for more than two years in the UK in the pursuit of a doctoral qualification, often supported by third parties for their funding, beyond the two year duration of the Marshall award.
Competition for Marshall awards is invariably intense and the calibre of students who receive the awards is outstanding. Many of the successful recipients will have alternative scholarship options either in the US or internationally (and hence the earlier reference to Rhodes). For Marshall awards to be confined to one year would, we believe, weaken their appeal to the highest calibre graduates whom we are currently able to attract, as well as undermine the Programme’s reputation for academic excellence and be interpreted negatively by the wider Marshall community. There is a risk that the prestige of the Programme would, as a result, be diminished.
Currently the Marshall Scholarship Programme is attracting high-quality graduates, broadly representative of talented young Americans who enrich the British universities at which they study. This reinforces an alumni community - in which US opinion formers and decision makers are heavily represented - which is full of goodwill towards the UK. The high regard of the Programme in its present form is underlined by the growing third-party support it attracts, which in recent years has effectively funded eight of the awards made. The proposal to raise the number of awards made to up to 50 is designed to facilitate additional awards funded by third parties, including alumni.
As Minister for Scholarships, I have already experienced the appreciation of Marshall Scholars for the support they receive. I believe that their determination to make the most of the opportunity the award offers - both whilst studying and in their subsequent careers - is reinforced by their knowledge of the principal source of its funding. There is no misplaced sense of entitlement.
The structure of a Programme such as this should always be open to challenge. The provision of postgraduate education in the UK has been transformed during the life of the Programme and there has been corresponding evolution in how awards are taken up and experienced. This will remain under review but, please, be in no doubt as to the success and value of the Programme in its present form.
Please let me know if I can assist you and your colleagues with any further information.
11 January 2018
Thank you for your letter of 11 January 2018 responding to mine of 21 December 2017 about the policy behind the Order to extend the MarshaIl Scholarship scheme. The Committee considered your response at its meeting yesterday and, I am sorry to say, remains unconvinced by the points you make.
In particular, the Committee noted your comments about the international relations benefits of the scheme but was disappointed that your response did not address the issue of whether the use of more single year scholarships might result in a larger cadre of grateful alumni at the same cost.
While fully appreciating the value of the current scheme, members also felt that your letter did not adequately address our question about the rationale for expanding the scheme’s capacity, using taxpayer’s money, at a time when the adequacy of funding for British university students is in question.
We do not intend to pursue this matter further but will publish the correspondence for the information of the House.
17 January 2018