The British Embassy celebrated a successful visit by eight British colleges and universities to Panama by announcing two major initiatives to expand the educational ties between the United Kingdom in Panama. The event, which was hosted at the residence of the British Ambassador to Panama Dr. Ian Frank Collard, hosted almost 100 dignitaries including representatives from British and Panamanian educational institution, as well as members of the British Embassy staff and the Panamanian government.
At the event, Ambassador Collard announced a large expansion of the number of Chevening scholarships that will be available to Panamanian university graduates, providing for up to 24 yearly scholarships through a partnership with the Panamanian Government, up from the current 1 scholarship offered. He also announced an agreement with the Panamanian Government to train an undisclosed number of Panamanian teachers in the United Kingdom as part of President Varela’s initiative to improve Panama’s bilingual education.
The Chevening scholarship, which is the United Kingdom’s program that is somewhat analogous to the United States’ Fullbright scholarship, is offered to top students from around the world to pursue graduate degrees, usually one year masters programs, in the United Kingdom. In the past, there was very limited availability of this scholarship to Panamanian students, but this will now change. The British Government will offer funding for 12 scholarships, and they will be matched by IFARHU, the Panamanian government’s human resources and scholarship department. IFARHU will match each scholarship at the level of £1000 ($1620) per scholarship per month, which is expected to fund another 12 scholarships in the program.
This marks a major play by the British Government to recruit Panama’s best and brightest students, and to become a major player in foreign educational opportunities for Panamanians that has traditionally been dominated by the United States. Embassy staff couldn’t provide an exact number of Panamanian students currently studying in the UK, but that number is believed to be small. Offering 24 scholarships will not only add those students to the number of Panamanian students studying in the UK, but it will also significantly raise the profile of British schools to those who will not receive the scholarships.
“It’s a new step for Panama-UK relations in the field of education,” said Ambassador Collard. “I think it’s going to be enormously successful.” The Ambassador stressed to those in attendance from Panamanian Universities to encourage their students to apply for these scholarships.
Event attendees were clear that they hoped that those who received the scholarship would come back to Panama and spread the word about their positive experience in Britain, continuing to increase interest among Panamanian students. They also expressed hope that those who graduate from the British Universities will come back to Panama and become community leaders, strengthening the ties between the two countries.
There was also a lot of excitement at the event over the Panamanian government’s plan to send teachers to the United Kingdom to train in English. English language education has been notoriously poor in Panamanian schools, and bilingual education was a major part of President Varela’s election campaign. He appears to be making good on his promise to get teachers trained overseas so that they will be able to teach English back in Panama. This benefits colleges like Edinburgh College, which focuses primarily on vocational and technical training.
The eight colleges and universities visiting Panama from the United Kingdom this week were Sheffield University, Anglia Ruskin University, Bangor University, University of St Andrews, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh College, Durham University and Cambridge English. In addition to the scholarship program and the bilingual education program, representatives from these schools met with Panamanian universities to strengthen research and training ties between the two countries.
While the ties at the higher education level between Panama and the United Kingdom are still developing, it was clear that this week major steps were taken to more closely link the two countries as educational partners.