Young Afghans selected for a prestigious Chevening scholarship will be unable to take up their place at UK universities this year, as the British embassy in Kabul cannot process their visas.
The highly competitive, government-backed scheme allows people from around the world to study at a British university for a year.
But 35 Afghans awarded scholarships have been told that the Chevening scheme for 2021-2022 will be paused for them because the embassy “is unable to administer the parts of the programme that must be done in Kabul in time for candidates to begin their courses this year”.
Deferred places have been offered instead.
As the Taliban rapidly advanced across Afghanistan, hundreds of British troops were sent to Kabul to support the evacuation of nationals and embassy staff.
“Just imagine, the excitement at starting our courses in a few weeks after a year of hard work and dedication, is turned into shock and disappointment,” said Sharif Safi, who was due to study for a master's at London Metropolitan University.
“We don’t deserve this," he said.
“It is especially difficult for us now to accept this decision because almost all of us have already resigned from our jobs, dealt with a lot of stress and opted for Chevening over several other educational and career opportunities,” Mr Safi said.
A letter to an awardee, shared online, said: “The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is proud of the role Chevening has played and will continue to play in offering Afghan scholars the opportunity to study in the UK and we remain committed to reinstating the programme as soon as possible.”
The news was criticised by former government ministers.
David Lidington, who was once the de facto deputy to former prime minister Theresa May, urged the government to review the situation urgently.
“This decision seems both morally wrong and against UK interests," he said.
“Surely those accepted on to Chevening will be at particular risk from Taliban, and are among the 'brightest and best' whom our government rightly wants to attract to the UK,” Mr Lidington said.
Rory Stewart, the former international development minister, said the news was “deeply disappointing to hear”.