New Commonwealth scholarships honour Queen’s role

Commonwealth ties are to be enhanced across the 53 member nations over the coming years with the announcement of 150 new graduate scholarships, named in honour of the head of the Commonwealth and testament to her widely admired decades of service.

The announcement was made by the United Kingdom’s Prince Harry, in his role as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador, at the start of the Youth Forum, which formed part of the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in London in mid-April. It is likely to be the last summit attended by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth.

The new scholarships will be known as the Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships and will begin next year – 70 years after the founding of the club of ex-colonies of the former British Empire as equal and sovereign partners, and 60 years after the original Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP), which already offers some awards to students from across the Commonwealth.

Education has long been seen as a key way of delivering the aims of the Commonwealth – to promote understanding and cultural links among the 2.4 billion population, of whom 60% are below the age of 30. Prince Harry in his speech noted that young people he had met in his travels across the Commonwealth were leading the charge to make technology safe and productive, to oppose climate change, conflict and inequality, and some past scholars have taken up such themes in their studies.

The scheme is being backed with a £5 million (US$6.8 million) grant from the UK Department for Education, with additional support being sought from other leading Commonwealth partners, with the money added to the CSFP endowment.

The UK Education Secretary of State, Damian Hinds, said the new initiative would be an investment building on existing relationships. “For young people across the Commonwealth, sharing in this partnership presents a unique opportunity to learn about other cultures.”

“It also gives us the chance to share learning from our respective education systems and to draw inspiration from across the globe,” he added.

The new awards, available to cover full fees, travel and living allowances for two-year masters degrees, come on stream from the new academic year with up to 30 a year on offer, hosted at nominated universities in what are deemed middle- and low-income countries such as Ghana, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and South Africa.

These include the universities of Botswana, the West Indies, Colombo, Dar es Salaam, Rwanda, Mauritius, Cape Town and Stellenbosch, Khulina in Bangladesh, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Buea in Cameroon, among more than 30 listed to date.

Building on bilateral schemes

This new scheme builds on bilateral schemes already run under the aegis of the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, and will be run through the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), which sees the scheme as further strengthening of the network of Commonwealth ties. The first Commonwealth awards were launched in 1959.

Dr Joanna Newman, CEO and secretary general of the ACU, said: “Scholarships have a transformational impact on the lives of individuals and also, more importantly, on their wider communities and societies, thanks to the skills and knowledge gained.”

The ACU is a network of more than 500 universities in more than 50 countries, whose mission it is to promote and support excellence in higher education ‘for the benefit of individuals and societies throughout the Commonwealth and beyond’.

The scheme was announced at the start of the week-long set of Commonwealth gatherings, which were set to discuss the succession of Queen Elizabeth as head of the Commonwealth, a job that does not automatically pass to members of the Royal Family.

The rules of succession had been left vague in 1949 and in the years that followed as the Commonwealth of Nations emerged from the British Empire and British Commonwealth, as indeed were most of the rules around the Commonwealth.

However, it has long been argued that the Queen, who pledged herself to serve her Commonwealth at the age of 21, has served with enormous distinction, soothing differences, and creating an atmosphere where Commonwealth leaders could talk informally.

Its main challenges and achievements may be the promotion of a climate change agenda, the support for free and fair democratic elections, and a key role in the defeat of apartheid policies in Southern Africa.

In her opening address to the summit Queen Elizabeth expressed her sincere wish that her son, Prince Charles, succeed her as head of Commonwealth and in the event this was agreed to with little or no opposition. This was in part because there was no obvious Mandela figure behind whom the Commonwealth heads could unite, but also a sure sign of gratitude for all that she has done.

Queen Elizabeth’s most recent initiative, the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, involves asking all Commonwealth nations to pledge to secure and protect for posterity swathes of their natural forests, so that there would remain a green arc across the globe. More than 40 members have already responded. The naming of the new scholarships can be seen as another gesture of gratitude for the Queen’s long service.

Dr Paul Flather is a fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom, and a member of the editorial board of The Round Table journal.