BARCELONA--The Spanish government pulled the plug last month on a program that funded hundreds of Ph.D. students from the developing world. The move has left many students angry at their host country and anxious about their chances of becoming scientists. Students have demonstrated outside university and government buildings in Barcelona and Madrid, with another protest planned for later this week.
In 1998 Spain's Agency of International Collaboration (AECI) expanded a program, begun at the end of World War II, that awards competitive 3-year training grants to deserving graduate students from the developing world. The program now supports more than 1200 students from 40 countries. But last month the AECI announced that it would transfer $3.6 million from the grants program into a new entity, the Carolina Foundation, to support cultural and education programs in Latin America, including science courses for biomedical postdocs.
The AECI's decision means that some 900 foreign students may soon be homeward bound. Last month the agency informed first- and second-year students that their training grants would be extended by 1 year. The roughly 350 students who were completing a third year without earning a Ph.D. were told that their support would end on 30 June, the last day of the academic year. The AECI said it would no longer grant extensions to allow such students to finish their degrees.
University officials have condemned the AECI's hard line as detrimental not only to the students but also their institutions and the countries to which they hope to return after earning their degree. But an agency official defends the move, citing the program's high cost and concerns that many students were using it as a platform to find jobs in Spain.
Even so, the backlash has sent AECI officials backpedaling. Jesús Silva, the Foreign Office's director of cultural and science relations, says that the agency will now give "a few extra months" of support to third-year students on the verge of completing degrees and may give selected foreign students a few months of grant support for study in Spain. But unless the AECI changes its stance, scores of embittered students will be packing their bags for home next year.