‘EU scholarships’ raise hopes and confusion

ISLAMABAD: It was too good a news for a city university professor to believe when his students told him that purportedly the European Union is offering 10,000 scholarships to Pakistani students in 2015.

“I opened my laptop to check the fact and discovered that some mysterious EU Education Foundation (EUEF) is behind the offer,” Prof Dr Muhammad Irfan, Chairman Department of Environmental Sciences of the International Islamic University Islamabad, told Dawn.

“Though the EUEF website displayed the EU emblem, I knew the EU does not offer scholarships, at least not directly,” he said.

A private company with an EU emblem on its website is offering ‘scholarships’

Inquiries revealed that the European Education Foundation Ltd was a private company registered in the United Kingdom last year.

“No one should object to our using EU in our company name. A disclaimer on our website mentions that we are an independent group,” said Azfar Bukhari answering a call to the Pakistan office of the company. He introduced himself as the Project Manager Scholarships.

Indeed, the last line of the website www.eueducationfoundation.eu says in fine print; disclaimer: EUEF has no association with EU or EC. It is an independent organisation registered in England.

But the most surprising statement that Mr Bukhari made to Dawn was that “the EUEF has no funds of its own” to finance the scholarships. “We have signed MoUs (memorandums of understanding) with 23 universities across Europe, which offer scholarships,” he said.

“We had intimated the Foreign Office about our worthy activities. In response to our letter, they endorsed our view points and directed PID (the Press Information Department) and the HEC (Higher Education Commission) to facilitate us by spreading information,” said Mr Bukhari.

A PID official, Muhammad Saleh, confirmed this. “The PID is following the guidelines of the Foreign Office’s letter, signed by Director Research and Policy Wing Ahmed Ali Sirohey. They said that EUEF has brought a good and productive programme for Pakistani students.”

HEC spokeswoman Ayesha Ikram was not available for comments. However, her deputy promised to respond on Thursday “after checking official record”.

Another letter purportedly issued by Mr Sirohey on January 26, 2015, bearing reference number U.O.No.F.Misc 1(5) 2015, endorsed the EUEF activities and termed them credible.

However, Mr Sirohey expressed ignorance about writing any such letters. “I think I never signed letters you are talking about,” he said.

Meanwhile, the EU office in Islamabad has denied any role in the matter. “European Union delegate to Pakistan has nothing to do with EUEF, and for further clarification we are going to issue a press release in the next few days,” said Ayesha Babar, Press Officer of Delegation of the European Union.

“The ‘EUEF’ has neither direct links with the Delegation nor does the Delegation endorses its activities or statements. The Delegation advises the public and media to use due diligence and precaution when dealing with EUEF,” read a press release, issued by EU Delegation to Pakistan in October 2014, in response to a news story, in which EUEF group claimed of offering 10,000 scholarships in 2015.

On the other hand the Federal Ministry of Education is in a quandary.

“We are confused. Every day students contact us for information about EUEF scholarships,” said a ministry official.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2015


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