Scholarship Scandal: Classmates of Frances Abbott Doubt She Got Scholarship Based on Merit and Art Portfolio

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By Vittorio Hernandez | May 23, 2014 6:21 AM EST

Graduating student Katherine Thomas has
Graduating student Katherine Thomas has "I Did It" written on her mortar board during Commencement Exercises at Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts May 19, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION SOCIETY)

More doubts are surfacing over the propriety of Frances Abbott, the daughter of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, being awarded a $60,000 scholarship in 2011 by the Whitehouse Institute of Design.

No less than her classmates have spoken, questioning the grant of the scholarship, which Mr Abbott claimed was based on her application and art portfolio. But recent developments appear that the grant was highly subjective, based on personal friendship of the institute's chairman, Les Taylor, with the then Opposition leader.

Chad Mason, who paid $68,000 for his Bachelor of Design in styling and creative direction and was Frances's classmate, told, "Having studied in the same classes alongside Tony Abbott's daughter ... I can assure you that there were no scholarships awarded to any other students in our cohort, and I can definitely say that I studied with some extremely talented people who were more deserving of a $60,000 scholarship."

The issue has gone beyond whether Mr Abbott should have declared the scholarship, which his office maintained was not necessary under current laws since it was not a gift.

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At stake is the credibility of the institution since its Web site states it does not currently offer scholarships for the Bachelor of Design degree. It contradicts what Ian Tudor, chief executive of Whitehouse, told that the design school has different types of scholarships numbering about 20 annually.

Tudor insisted the scholarship that France got was a direct scholarship from the school's founder and owner, Leane Whitehouse, who awards it from time to time, stressing it is "a discretionary award made and funded by Leanne Whitehouse." He added Frances is the only second recipient of the scholarship.

Mason emphasised that many of the students then requested for scholarships but were told there was none, leading some of them to hold double jobs to acquire a design degree.

On Thursday, the Guardian wrote that the institute courted Frances several times to accept the scholarship wherein she underwent only one interview.

The daily said that Taylor was given the job of luring Frances away from other schools through the offer of scholarship. It cited internal documents from Whitehouse that Taylor, who is also a frequent donor to the Liberal Party and a personal friend of Mr Abbott, made four attempts to contact his daughter, which led to a meeting with Whitehouse on Feb 18, 2011.

Guardian asked Tudor for more details about the chairman's scholarship such as criteria in selecting the scholar, but Tudor did not reply to the detailed questions from the daily.

The furor over the scholarship came out in the open as Australian students hold protests against the proposed budget cuts that could cause tuition fees to increase. Australian media describe the budget, with its projected $30-billion deficit, as the PM's Julia Gillard moment.

The scholarship scandal, though, is likely adding to Mr Abbott's headaches as he battles negative public opinion of his governance, worsened on Wednesday by the "winking" incident.

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Graduating student Katherine Thomas has "I Did It" written on her mortar board during Commencement Exercises at Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts May 19, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION SOCIETY)
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