AT A time when the world is courting India, the rising super power appears to have slipped down Britain’s list of strategic priority countries. Its Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has abruptly scrapped the Chevening programme — a popular scholarship for Indian journalists, which till recently was touted as an effective way to further public diplomacy and build ties with India’s future opinion formers.
The quiet burial of the Chevening programme, conceived in the mid-1990s, has raised doubts about Britain’s “strategic” interest in India.
Jim Murphy, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was asked in the House of Commons last month about the criteria used to determine the number of Chevening scholarships allocated to each country.
He said that following a review of the programme, scholarship allocations had been gradually reprioritised to be more aligned with Britain’s international strategic priorities.
The phasing out of the Chevening programmes for both print and broadcast journalists at media schools in Lincoln and Bournemouth serve as evidence that Britain could be restricting public diplomacy efforts in India.
A British foreign office spokeswoman told HT: “We are ending the two courses specifically focused on broadcast and print journalism, each of which took 20 or so Indian journalists every year, because they were no longer central to Chevening objectives. The courses contained a significant element of capacity building, which is not a core aim of Chevening.”
She claimed that India remained a very significant priority with the second largest allocation of scholarships overall this year after China.
Journalism academia and professionals in the UK, however, fail to understand what drove the FCO to strike the journalism scholarship off the list.
Richard Keeble, professor of journalism, Lincoln University, which conducts the programme for print journalists, said: “There seems to be no logic to this as India is one of the most important countries in the world in terms of media growth.” He added that the academia would protest against the decision at the highest levels and “we are determined to get the decision reversed”.
A senior London-based journalist said he was surprised by the decision as journalists play a crucial role in transmitting public diplomatic messages across boundaries.
The foreign office spokeswoman said the revisions to the scheme since the last review in December 2006 have strengthened the focus on identifying “future leaders”.
“Indian journalists can still be awarded Chevening scholarships if they meet the Chevening criteria — and beat the competition.”