McBride used the trip, which was led by Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, to discuss the CBIE-managed Libyan-North American Scholarship Program started in early 2010, which has come under considerable pressure for funding this year as a result of the Libyan civil war.
The programme, which is a collaboration between the Libyan Ministry of Education, CBIE and host universities in Canada and the US, is funded by the Libyan Government and involves approximately 2,000 Libyan students pursuing graduate and postgraduate medical studies.
McBride met the new Director of Scholarships within Libya’s Ministry of Education, Dr. Mohamed Bin Taher, who said that the transitional government fully backed the programme and that “all eligible Libyan students” would be entitled to join. He also has “every expectation” that new students will be nominated to participate in the initiative later this year.
However, in a separate statement to students on the programme’s website, the CBIE said that policy changes to the programme would be announced imminently.
CBIE, a major NGO dedicated to international education in Canada, has worked hard to keep the scholarship scheme on the rails this year as events in Libya intensified. In March, scholars across the US and Canada were left in limbo after the US froze $30 billion of Libyan assets to destabilize Colonel Gaddafi’s military campaign, forcing CBIE to report that there would be no money available through the programme after May 31st.
However, with the help of the UN Security Council and the Canadian, US and British governments, CBIE managed to secure funds through Libya’s central bank in June, protecting the scheme until May 2012. This restored monthly living allowances, health insurance and tuition fees to students at hundreds of institutions across north America, many of whom were relying on the support of universities and community groups. In the US, a Federal Register Notice was ushered in which also meant Libyan students left without funding could work part-time to ease their financial situation.
During last week’s visit, Baird promised CAN$10 million to support democratic transition and disarmament in Libya, but has since faced criticism for traveling with Alberta oil giant Suncor and Calgary-based pipeline-technology firm Pure Technologie in what some see as a blatant case of business speculation.
However, Baird was frank about the visit, saying in an interview with The Globe and Mail: “Obviously, we’re fighting for Canadian companies to be able to begin their operations as soon as possible. That’ll be good for the Canadian economy and good for the future of Libya.”