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GFA scholarship programme paused as funding reassessed

The George Mitchell Scholarship Program, which sends American post-graduate students to study in Irish universities, is suspending its selection of future classes to reassess its long-term funding situation.

Usually the programme make a call for applications during the week of St Patrick’s Day, but it has announced that it will not select a class of 2026, to start in Irish universities this autumn.

Set up 25 years ago to commemorate the contribution of former senator George Mitchell and the US government to the Good Friday Agreement, almost 300 students have graduated from the scheme.

The US-Ireland Alliance, a Washington-based non-profit organisation which runs the Mitchell Scholarship Programme, said in a statement that the programme is not in immediate financial difficulty, but because it operates on a small budget with annual funding, it has to do so in a way that is “very different from having the stable, permanent funding that comes with an endowment”.

The US-Ireland Alliance estimates the minimum endowment needed to make the scholarships funding self-sustaining is $40 million (€37m).

It says the Irish Government has committed to match any funds that are raised for the endowment up to €20m.

Founder of the US-Ireland Alliance Trina Vargo said: “It is time to pause to determine if there is sufficient interest in retaining the most prestigious scholarship that uniquely sends young Americans to the island of Ireland”.

Most American scholarship programmes are funded by large endowments, typically donated by a wealthy benefactor, such as the Gates or Schwartzman programmes.

The Rhodes Scholarships, which supported former president Bill Clinton’s study at Oxford University, also operates on a self-financing endowment. Most funds in the US are bigger than $100m (€91m).

“The support we’ve enjoyed for the last 25 years is very much appreciated and necessary, but unfortunately, it’s not sufficient,” said Ms Vargo. “Hence the need for a bridge to the future, which an endowment will provide.”

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