Foreign Office blocks Afghan students from UK scholarships

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Afghan students offered scholarships by the UK government to study here from next month have been told they will not now be able to take up their places.

The Foreign Office said that it was blocking 35 Afghan students from taking up prestigious scholarships sponsored by the UK government at British universities in September because the embassy can no longer administer their visas.

The students were given the news this month in a letter from the British ambassador to Kabul, Sir Laurie Bristow.

“Current circumstances mean that the British embassy in Kabul is unable to administer the parts of the programme that must be done in Kabul in time for candidates to begin their courses this year. We are very sorry, as we know this will be a huge disappointment to you.”

The move has prompted outrage, with David Lidington and Rory Stewart, two former Conservative cabinet ministers, calling on Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, to intervene.

One of the scholarship students, Naimatullah Zafary, told the BBC that students had been crying and some had panic attacks when they met with UK embassy staff to discuss the deferral of their places.

"I cannot sleep," he said. "When we really need it, you are taking it away."

On Thursday the students held a virtual meeting with officials in the UK embassy in Kabul. The students put forward alternatives for the final administration of their scholarships, including having their visas processed in a third country. These options were rejected by the embassy.

More than 30 of the 35 students with places this year have resigned from their jobs in Afghanistan and some declined promotions.

Many of the women fear that as the Taliban extends its rule, their educational opportunities will disappear.

Dr Nishank Motwani, the director of research and policy at ATR Consulting in Kabul, said: “These are extraordinary times and this is when officials need to find creative solutions. The Chevening programme advertises itself as developing leaders for the future. They need to live up to their own mantra because in years to come, when the west wakes up about Afghanistan and sees what has happened, who are they going to turn to?

“It is these people, the top minds in the country [who] need to be saved. Afghanistan will need them. And these countries that have invested so much in Afghanistan over 20 years will need them.”

Motwani said the looming evacuation of the UK embassy was the “final opportunity” to bring the students out of Afghanistan. He said abandoning them would be a “disgraceful moral failure given how many Afghans have stood shoulder to shoulder with the UK’s civilian and military forces over the past two decades”.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said all of this year's scholars would be able to start their programme next year.

The Taliban has seized what had been government-controlled territory with speed following the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The militant group is now in control of much of the country and is edging closer to the capital Kabul.