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First Vanier scholars hail mostly from home

More international students expected to win the prestigious scholarship in coming years


Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships might soon be Canada’s answer to the prestigious Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships that have long wooed the world’s top doctoral students, but it could take a couple of years.

When the inaugural Vanier recipients – 166 in all – were announced in Ottawa on April 30, over three-quarters were Canadian students and most of the international students who received funding are already studying in Canada.

Nevertheless, 22 per cent of recipients were international students from 21 countries on five continents. Eight of the University of Toronto’s 34 recipients were international students, as were seven of 17 recipients at the University of British Columbia. The scholars will receive $50,000 a year for up to three years.

The competition was based on excellence, and institutions’ nomination quotas were based on each university’s share of funding from the three federal research granting councils. U of T was the most successful, with 34 Vanier scholarships awarded out of its quota of 36 nominees. UBC received 17 out of a possible 25; University of Alberta, 12 of 17; McGill University, 12** of 20; and Université de Montréal, 11 of 14.

Universities had just eight weeks to nominate students after the program was launched last September – a timeline that all but ruled out any substantial international recruitment campaigns. (See our earlier story, “Vanier scholarships challenged by tight deadline”.)

“Given the time constraints, it was pretty difficult to solicit and develop nominations from outside the country. That’s just the reality of the timing,” said Alan George, the University of Waterloo’s dean of graduate studies. “We didn’t pursue [international recruitment] much at all.”

Pari Johnston, the director of international relations at the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, said that more students abroad will likely be lured by the Vanier Scholarships in the near future.

“I think the issue is that this is the first year of program implementation and with tight timelines, this is a good first result,” she said. “Our strong hope is that those numbers will increase and include recruitment from an international pool.”

The tight timelines might not have been the only factor affecting the high proportion of domestic recipients of Vanier scholarships.

Any Canadian-born Vanier nominee who didn’t receive a scholarship automatically receives a Canada Graduate Scholarship worth $35,000. That CGS “backstop” sparked concerns that some schools would nominate domestic students because of the guaranteed funding.

Brendan Morey, the University of British Columbia’s manager of graduate awards, said that his school ignored citizenship and judged Vanier applications entirely based on merit. “We understood that there was perhaps a strategic advantage to submitting domestic students,” he said. “But we made it explicit in instructions to committees that were doing adjudication that whether (students) were international or domestic wasn’t to be a consideration.”

In the end, Mr. Morey said, UBC nominated roughly the same number of international and domestic students. And every international student who was nominated for a Vanier but did not receive one ended up qualifying for institutional scholarships worth at least $20,000.

Janice Deakin, the dean of graduate studies at Queen’s, said that all of the school’s Vanier recipients – including two international students – already study on that campus. But she expects that to change in the future, when universities and the federal government have more time to market the scholarships.

The next round of Vanier nominations could experience some procedural changes. The granting councils are considering the creation of a single website and application process for prospective Vanier recipients. The councils may also revoke the automatic CGS awarded to domestic students who are not awarded a Vanier Scholarship.

Correction: In this article, the number of McGill scholars receiving Vanier scholarships was corrected on June 16, 2009. There are 12, not 11 as originally reported. (Back to top)

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