CANADA: Scholarship includes international students

There are many emails about funding opportunities that flow through Elsayed Ali's inbox but, as an international student in Canada, the PhD student from Egypt finds himself eligible for too few of these grants. That's why an email this past autumn caught his eye.

His university was looking for either domestic or international doctoral students who might be nominated for a new award, the lucrative Vanier Scholarship. "This was one of the rare occasions that I qualified," said Ali.

Not long after, he was filling out the necessary application form. This spring, he won one and became part of the first group of award recipients - 166 students this year.

The Vaniers are worth C$50,000 (US$42,700) a year for up to three years to the "world's leading doctoral students" and will eventually award 500 grants each year, funnelled through Canada's three federal granting agencies.

The government is using the new programme to try to attract, and retain, top doctoral scholars. It sees a benefit through greater international partnerships, innovation and learning opportunities for students.

The award is akin to the Rhodes and Guggenheim scholarships but it is worth more than the two other prestigious international awards even after factoring in the tuition that the Vanier winners will need to cover.

For Ali, a Carleton University physics student who has been in Canada for five years since beginning his masters, the award feels like a warm welcome. "It sends a message that if you have the talent, you will be appreciated," said the 37-year-old whose studies in medical physics centre on better evaluating the output of the machines responsible for cancer patients' radiation therapy.

He sees his field as a middle ground between theoretical and applied physics. His research, along with the work of colleagues, will eventually help manufacturers and radiologists have more accurate measurements of the high-energy photon spectra machines whose complexities are still not completely understood.

Ali has had many more resources available to him in Ottawa than would have been available in his native city of Alexandria. He said many of his professors had also trained in North America and he knew he needed to do this work outside Egypt.

Having this kind of funding available to international students counters the image that Ali acknowledges is out there: that foreign students are treated as cash cows. While he pays a high tuition fee of $16,000 a year, he says his university has been generous with grants in the past. But now he says it's good to see international students finally included in an award.

Nevertheless, the awards have been overwhelmingly won by domestic students. Only a fifth of the grants that were announced are destined for international students as 36 of the 166 recipients hail from outside of Canada.

Some critics believe this number could have been higher, pointing to the fact that foreign students who do not get the Vanier are not eligible for the Canada Graduate Scholarships. Domestic students nominated for the Vaniers who do not win, however, are automatically awarded the $35,000 CGS. Some universities may feel that it is in their best interest, then, to nominate a domestic student.