Some very good news from Azerbaijan, where the British Council has been instrumental in securing – or restoring - significant opportunities for UK universities.
In 2006, the government announced 5000 scholarships for graduate and post-graduate study in key sectors at universities overseas. The scheme is halfway through, with 2612 scholarships already awarded. Students who are selected are free to choose for themselves the country to study in and the university of their choice; 33 countries are involved, and 544 universities worldwide.
The UK is the single most popular destination for the scholars (closely followed by Germany). Higher education in the UK has an unmatched reputation for quality in Azerbaijan and the fact that English is the language of instruction is also germane.
The government set up the scholarships with a list of 48 eligible universities in the UK – selected by the Ministry of Education for their perceived strengths in priority areas, or for existing links with Azerbaijan. A total of 676 scholars have so far taken up their scholarships in the UK, and the number of requests continues to rise; the student recruitment has also led to links and partnerships developing between UK and Azerbaijani universities, many facilitated by the British Council.
However, in early 2013, there was a sudden set-back to this successful co-operation. The Ministry of Education announced a cut to the list, excluding 21 of the previously eligible UK universities and leaving 27. This abrupt move was potentially damaging to the developing relationships between higher education in the UK and in Azerbaijan.
Just this week the Ministry has announced that the list has been expanded again from 27 to 40 universities. Many of the universities with the strongest relations in Azerbaijan – such as Warwick, Southampton, Heriot Watt – have been reinstated. Not all the excluded universities are back, and there are two new unexplained exclusions – but we are delighted to announce that 15 UK universities are once again able to recruit government scholars from Azerbaijan, and the scholars can once again choose from a wide variety of excellent institutions.
The British Council, working alongside various UK Vice-Chancellors and the UK Ambassador to Azerbaijan, is delighted by the outcomes of the negotiations which have helped the UK HE sector to maintain links with Azerbaijan – and we will continue to press for even wider inclusion of yet more UK universities. The links will be of assistance for the medium-term prosperity of universities in the UK – and the longer-term prosperity of the Land of Fire.