Commonwealth bid to promote scholarships to African colleges

June 29, 2001

Forget Princeton or the Sorbonne - British students will have more opportunities to study at African universities if plans being discussed among Commonwealth student-mobility specialists come to fruition.

Signs of a greater commitment to the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP)by African universities could see the end of the virtual monopoly of awards being taken up in the developed nations.

Twelve Commonwealth countries were represented at talks in London this week to review how to position the scheme in line with the agenda established at the Halifax, Nova Scotia, conference of Commonwealth education ministers, held last November.

Cameroon, one of the newest Commonwealth member states, has pledged two scholarships for next year, while Nigeria, which was suspended from the Commonwealth after the execution of human-rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, has indicated it will resume its scholarship programme soon. Mauritius also made a commitment to the plan during the Halifax conference.

There is interest in the scheme from the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa, and from Uganda, where Makerere University is undergoing a resurgence after a period of decline.

The Halifax conference set a target of at least 14 out of the 54 Commonwealth member states offering to host scholars by 2003.

Most of the 45 British students who are overseas on scholarships - mainly as part of their doctoral studies - are in developed countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, although some are in India and Jamaica. African countries have hosted scholarships in the past, but mainly during the 1960s and 1970s.

Since the conference, administrators have actively sought to revive interest in the scheme's benefits among African universities.

During April's Association of Commonwealth Universities meeting in Cyprus, the heads of all the African universities present agreed that they would seek to offer scholarships from their own resources.

John Kirkland, executive secretary of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission UK, which administers the United Kingdom's involvement in CSFP, said: "There are many students who do voluntary service overseas from the UK.

"We should be able to identify target areas and courses where there are specialisms in Africa, or where fieldwork could be done in Africa."

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