SOE Educational Grants: will they remain, transform or disappear?

Professor Marko Hawlina, Chairman SOE Educational Committee mentor of YO Programme

When I was a young ophthalmologist, SOE was regarded as the society that was collectively perceived as the essence of European ophthalmology. At that time there were few subspecialty congresses in existance, and the SOE president was almost like a king when he came to open the society congress in his presidential gown, followed by national delegates also in their respective traditional gowns.

Dr Zdenek Gregor was the first president to move SOE away from such traditions, first by replacing the traditional congress procession with a more contemporary opening. He also invited emerging subspecialist societies to collaborate and contribute to the SOE Congress programme, which was further enhanced by this input and became, in the opinion of many, the best that European ophthalmology could offer. The congress therefore has immense educational impact.

Dr Gregor also founded the SOE Education Committee, focusing on YO training in Europe, and invited me to lead it. At the time, there were huge differences in the standard of ophthalmology training between countries separated by the then recently fallen Iron Curtain

To reduce these differences, SOE introduced the Resident Educational Grants for YOs from Eastern Europe. These grants were vital and unique in providing opportunities for these YOs to observe ophthalmology training in renowned centres in Western Europe.

Initially, SOE was offering grants for 15 to 30 YOs per year, but with increased interest over time the number quickly rose to 90 per year. To date, SOE has awarded over 1000 grants, amounting to over €1 million investment in education. Many of those grant beneficiaries have become ophthalmology leaders in their respective countries and have greatly contributed to the harmonisation of education in Europe.

However, in recent years, with the emergence of congresses of strong subspecialist societies,  the SOE congresses is no longer the largest in Europe. Grants that represent one of the substantial expenses for SOE were consequentially reduced in number and now,  more than 250 YO applicants from Eastern Europe are competing annually for the 75 grants. With Industry funding increasingly hard to secure It is a crucial question for SOE to consider how it maintains its grant programme for the future. SOE YO are an important element of our future success and we hope grants will stay. Grants and the free transfer of knowledge in previous years has greatly reduced differences between ophthalmology in Europe. Moving forward we may need to revise the eligibility of countries for grants and focus also on the one common problem faced across Europe, lack of surgical training during residency.  The SOE Education committee  have so far responded to this together with SOE YO  by organising a web-page to list all opportunities for training  in Europe, called YOUTHUB.  In addition,  SOE Education Committee this year is introducing Mini-Fellowship Grants,:   Two grants will be awarded for three months and one grant for six months for YOs irrespective of the country of applicant.

SOE Grant applications for 2019 are now being received. To apply for an Educational or Teacher grant click here