In 2021, the Ombudsman contacted the Public Scholarship, Development, Disability and Child Support Fund of the Republic of Slovenia (the Fund) in the context of addressing broader issues due to the lengthy decision-making process on Ad futura scholarships. See also: repozitorij.uni-lj.si/Dokument.php.
The process, which usually starts sometime in the spring months, usually ends only in autumn. Many universities, in which potential scholarship recipients enrol, require that students pay the tuition fee prior to the start of the new university year (in August, September, etc.), and as a result, potential scholarship recipients must find another source of funding for their education before they obtain a scholarship.
We were concerned that students who come from financially disadvantaged families do not have this option, so we contacted the Fund to ask if they think that the current procedure could be improved, and if they are aware of cases where individuals, who were indeed accepted to the desired higher education programme, failed to enrol in it because they received the scholarship too late.
In its response, the Fund explained that it does not have data on the share of students who do not decide to study abroad due to the lengthy decision-making process. The Fund is aware of the issue pointed out by the Ombudsman and is addressing it as much as possible, including with the cooperation of external stakeholders, such as the VTIS association (Associations of Slovenians educated abroad). According to the Fund's estimation, it is not possible to shorten the Ad Futura scholarship decision-making process significantly, due to the requirements of the call for enrolment process and the diversity of study programmes and enrolment procedures for those programmes. They were also open to Ombudsman’s suggestions.
In line with the Fund’s extended hand (while it should be emphasised that no violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms were found), we addressed a proposal to it to study the possibility of whether the decision-making process on Ad Futura scholarships could be optimised so that within the framework of the existing system, the best ranked candidates (i.e. those who would unequivocally receive a scholarship upon a complete application and fulfilment of other required conditions) would receive a scholarship even before the deadline for supplementing applications in September, as soon as such a candidate's application is complete. In this way, it would be possible, at least in part, to avoid a situation where an otherwise capable individual would not be able to afford to study abroad due to financial constraints; by the time they received the decision that the scholarship for the chosen programme would be awarded to them, it would be too late.
The Fund replied that our proposal that the Fund award scholarships to the best-ranked candidates even before the deadline for filling out applications in September, i.e. as soon as such a candidate's application was complete, was rejected due to legal and procedural restrictions. Regardless of the above, the Fund recognised in our proposal the possibility that, during the summer of 2022, candidates could be given a clearer assessment of how high they actually rank in relation to their application.
We considered that our intervention was a successful one. We also positively assessed the Fund's willingness to cooperate with the Ombudsman and other stakeholders in order to find the most appropriate solutions for the awarding of the Ad futura scholarship. 19.1-65/2021