The future of the prestigious George Mitchell scholarships, which allows top US students to study in Ireland for a year, is under threat due to the withdrawal of funding by Irish and American governments, businesses, and philanthropists.
The US-Ireland Alliance — a non-partisan, non-profit organisation which administers the scholarship programme — has expressed concern that the future of the programme is dependent on finding new sources of revenue.
In its latest annual report, the alliance’s president and founder, Trina Vargo, said support for the programme in Ireland and the US was often “superficial and hype”.
She also highlighted how fundraisers hired to find other sources of revenue had cost more money than they had raised.
Concern about the future of the Mitchell scholarships has increased following the decision of the governments in both the Republic and the North that they are no longer in a position to fund the programme due to budgetary constraints.
The Northern Ireland Department of Employment and Learning is no longer providing financial support after this summer while the Department of Education in the Republic has announced it will cease funding the scholarships after 2017.
The programme, which has annual running expenses of around €875,000, had largely been funded by the US Department of State up to 2014.
Since last year funding has come mostly from private partners and contributors as well as the Department of Education which is providing almost €425,000 each year up to 2017.
The scholarships are awarded annually by the Washington-based US- Ireland Alliance to 12 American students to fund a year’s study at universities and other third level institutions in the Republic or the North.
The cross-border programme was established in 1998 by Ms Vargo, a former political adviser to Senator Ted Kennedy, to honour Senator George Mitchell and his pivotal role in negotiating the Northern Ireland peace process.
In its 2015 annual report, the alliance said the financial support from the Department of Education gave the existence of the scholarships more time and space.
However, it added: “We remain concerned about America’s waning attention to and interest in Ireland beyond the superficial and the hype, which often does not match reality.”
Ms Vargo expressed concern about whether there was sufficient interest from supporters to ensure the future of the scholarship programme.
“The bad news is that there is not much evidence that philanthropists and companies are interested in committing support at the necessary levels,” Ms Vargo said.
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