On behalf of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, every spring, Universities South Africa (USAf), in collaboration with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the British Council, coordinates the process of sending off a new cohort of Commonwealth Scholarship recipients to study in the United Kingdom. 2018 is no different. In keeping with a tradition dating back to when USAf was known as the South African University Vice-Chancellors Association (SAUVCA), USAf is delighted to see another group of 18 young bright minds off to pursue postgraduate studies overseas.
Some leave as early as mid-September in time for the start of the academic year from September to October.
At their recent pre-departure briefing, Ms Anisa Khan, British Council’s Higher Education Programme Manager, assured the Class of 2018 that they were about to undergo a life-changing experience. “You are not just about to experience teaching and research at top-ranked institutions, you are also joining a worldwide network of highly skilled professionals.” The scholars had earned this award, Ms Khan said, “through the fantastic track record you’ve all demonstrated, including being engaged and active citizens. The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan emphasises development with a purpose. You have also been selected for your potential to return to South Africa to serve, to continue engaging with others and to contribute to this country’s development.”
Some of the 18-member Class of 2018 at their pre-departure briefing event on 21 August 2018.
Also congratulating this new crop of scholars, Prof Ahmed Bawa, USAf’s Chief Executive Officer, said, “I know a few people who could not secure this opportunity. That’s how competitive this scholarship is. It is also an indication of how brilliant you lot are, so congratulations!.”
Why global exposure is important
Prof Bawa said the 2 700 doctorates produced at South Africa’s 26 universities in 2016 were products of no more than seven to eight institutions. “We have a small pool of academics producing these PhDs. There is not enough diversity in the system to produce what South Africa requires in postgraduate students, hence the importance of sending scholars abroad, to expose them to other systems around the world.” He said the UK is an example of the excellent education destinations around the globe.
The USAf CEO added that the value of overseas scholarship was most evident during the heydays of African institutions such as the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Makerere in Uganda and our very own Fort Hare.
“These institutions flourished because people who had been in exile returned at the point of independence from many parts of the world, including other parts of Africa, and produced a rich diversity of scholarship forms. This produced the heyday of African scholarship and higher education. The structural adjustment programmes that African countries were subjected to in the 1980s impacted severely on higher education on the continent.”
Valuable alumnus advice shared
A Theoretical Physics graduate of Durham University himself, Prof Bawa encouraged the scholars to extend themselves beyond their studies. “Get involved with the arts, the music scene – no matter which university or city you live in. You will be fascinated by the diversity of cultures you will meet there,” he added, reminiscing over his own experience many years ago, when “we had neighbours from the Middle East, Egypt, Palestine, Latin America, China, Saudi Arabia, etc. My kids played with theirs. In the fasting month, Muslims went to sleep during the day and worked at night. A Sri Lankan neighbour also taught us a lot about the struggles there. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the world and the relationships you build now will take you way into the future.
The scholars paid attention to every bit of advice offered.
“Two pieces of advice: First, the weather can be awful. But be resilient. Kick yourselves out – rain or no rain, walk, cycle and immerse yourself in the culture. The gloriousness of their summers makes the winter a lot more worthwhile. Secondly, British food is really bland but once you’ve sanitised your taste buds, you’ll find it superb,” he said to soft laughter in the room.
Lastly, he encouraged the scholars to extend themselves maximally in their study destinations. “In my time at Durham I could have just limited myself to physics – but I attended lots of mathematics courses because I knew that I would need all of that in future. This was also about engaging with the concept of multi-disciplinarity that universities are now about. Broaden your capacity to do research. Cultivate links with people there for ongoing research beyond your qualification – perhaps not only with people in the UK but there and elsewhere.”
On behalf of the Department of Higher Education and Training, Ms June-Rose Ngcobo, Deputy Director: Scholarship Management, said, “I feel privileged to be standing in front of the high-calibre students that you are. We are proud of you – knowing that you will succeed on this journey. We’re aware that especially those of you aspiring to work in academia will bring back lots of great ideas stemming from your exposure to world-renowned researchers. We, therefore, wish you only the best.”
Ms Ngcobo said the Scholarships Directorate in DHET was responsible for a number of scholarships offered by Hungary, China, Russia and Mauritius, to cite some examples. This division also handles applications from scholars in Commonwealth countries choosing to make South Africa their study destination.
“Thank you, USAf”
The Deputy Director: Scholarship Management also extended DHET’s gratitude to USAf, especially Ms Jana van Wyk, Senior Manager in the Office of the CEO, “for the efficient way and excellence with which you have managed this scholarship over the years.” This is the final year that USAf was South Africa’s nominating agency for the Commonwealth Scholarship. Every year around July, USAf would invite new applications for masters and doctoral studies tenable in the UK. By November each year, the Office of the USAf CEO would have received well over 200 applications. Thereafter, the Senior Manager shortlisted qualifying candidates and presented the list, with the completed application forms, to a selection committee comprising representatives of universities, the DHET and the British Council.
The selection committee evaluated each application on merit in order to arrive at the agreed South African nomination list (26 masters and 24 doctoral candidates) to be submitted to the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in London for its consideration and final selection.
Henceforth, the DHET will take over as the nominating agency, starting with applications for 2019.
Ms Janet Taylor (left), who recently graduated from a one-year Master of Philosophy programme in Conservation Leadership at the University of Cambridge, was eager to mentor others in appreciation of invaluable advice she herself received in 2016 from a Malawian Cambridge alumnus.
The annual pre-departure event is an occasion to brief the students about study life in the United Kingdom, to talk them through the pre-departure process, to offer them advice on arrival and to give them inspiration. Representatives of UK Visa and Immigration were also on hand to provide valuable advice on the UK visa application process and to answer the scholars’ questions. A unique feature of the 2018 event was the inclusion in the day’s programme, of alumni and potential mentors, with intent to facilitate information-sharing and prepare the scholars optimally for what lies ahead. The 2018 scholars were therefore paired with potential mentors on the basis of shared disciplines, by study destination or common career interests.
That evening of 21 August, the scholars also enjoyed a networking session with alumni. The idea is for alumni to form a solid network of development agents and, over time, to extend that network beyond South Africa.
The Commonwealth Scholarship programme in South Africa goes as far back as 1960. To date, well over 860 South African graduates have obtained masters and doctoral degrees through this fund.
Scholars are fulfilling the Commonwealth Scholarship motto of development with a purpose
They expect everything from lots of rain to highly cosmopolitan experiences in the United Kingdom (UK). Bright, inquisitive and optimistic, they are also eager to contribute to South Africa’s advancement – each inspired by their life journey thus far and their distinct field of expertise. This is South Africa’s 18-person power team, the Class of 2018 just awarded Commonwealth Scholarships to pursue postgraduate studies at various universities in the UK.
Judging by what the scholars desire to bring back, the bar set by the Class of 2018 is higher than ever.
Jana Rossouw aims to design medical technology accessible to all
Ms Jana Rossouw (24), an aspiring biomedical engineer, is driven by the inequality in South Africa in access to quality healthcare and all the technology that comes with it. She wants to play her part in social justice and sees her own enrolment in a master’s programme in biomedical engineering as a step in that direction. On 29 September 2018 she will be reporting at Imperial College London in that pursuit.
Jana’s plan to make a difference manifested in the final year of her Bachelor of Engineering degree at Stellenbosch University. As part of her final year project in mechatronics (a field of engineering that fuses elements of mechanical engineering, electronics, computer and other forms of engineering), she developed a cost-effective neonatal hypothermia unit, a device used to treat hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE) in neonates. HIE results when an infant is deprived of oxygen during birth and can lead to severe disability and even death if left untreated. “This was my first encounter with biomedical engineering. The technology that is currently used for this type of treatment costs more than R100 000 per unit and is not widely available in South Africa. The purpose of my device was to provide the same medical treatment at a fraction of the cost (only about R2 500 per unit).”
Upon her return, Ms Jana Rossouw aspires to design medical technology affordable to all in South Africa.
|Jana says she realised while pursuing that final year project just how critical it is to consider the environment in which a device is to be deployed during its design. “Many of the solutions currently on the market were designed with the needs (and luxuries) of the Western world in mind. South African biomedical engineers need to design technologically advanced medical equipment suited to our unique challenges. This will be a priority for me when I return.”|
This technological enthusiast plans one day to register as a professional engineer and possibly even start her own company. “I wish to support local manufacturing businesses and prioritise our social impact by making the technology available to those who can’t afford it, free of charge. Call me naïve, but that’s my dream!”
Born in Pretoria in 1994, Jana grew up in Cape Town. Instead of pursuing postgraduate studies immediately after graduating first in her class (cum laude) from the BEng programme in 2016, she decided to work fulltime. This was mostly to fulfil bursary work-back obligations and also to be sure of the direction she wanted her career to take. The past two years in a professional environment, coupled with a passion to make a lasting positive impact on people’s lives, have convinced Jana that biomedical engineering is the way to go. She will leave South Africa on 23 September in pursuit of this dream.
Already a proven leader and social justice activist, Jana has in the past year volunteered her time motivating young students, especially girls, to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. “I want to make them aware of the requirements, at school level already, to gain access to higher education and ultimately pursue these types of careers. I have also, on occasion, voluntarily tutored these students in science and maths.”
In her leisure time, Jana listens to music. “I have, during my formative years, sung in several regional and national choirs,” she shares. “I also play the piano and violin. I have a deep sense of adventure and absolutely love to travel! This makes me even more excited about my year abroad.” A true believer in maintaining a healthy body, mind and spirit, Jana also runs in her free time.
Londeka Gumede wants to deliver reliable, clean water to eVutha
|eVutha is the home of Ms Londeka Primrose Gumede, 27, also a member of the Commonwealth Class of 2018. This rural village in KwaZulu-Natal lies 15 km from the nearest town, Mandeni. From here, Londeka is headed for the University of Birmingham, where she will be reading for a Masters in Hydrogeology.|
Born and raised in Umlazi on the outskirts of Durban, Londeka says her family relocated to eVutha after she lost her father in 2015. Her mother, a retired teacher and quadriplegic after surviving a stroke, preferred to live closer to where her late husband was buried. Londeka’s family had to live without a clean and reliable water supply because the remote area of eVutha is not connected to the bulk water infrastructure of the Mandeni Local Municipality.
“Our community relies on water delivered by the municipality in tanker trucks. But the service is not reliable. In the past, the trucks used to deliver water once every two to three months. When they did we collected as much water as we could. But the supply would not even last two weeks. Those with the means to buy water storage tanks have therefore resorted to rainwater harvesting. But our region has been in drought since 2015 and that has proved to be a limited solution. Others rely on nearby rivers for all their domestic water supply. We share drinking water with animals.”
Ms Londeka Gumede wishes to find a sustainable clean water solution to rural South Africa.
Equipped with a university education and an awareness of her constitutional right to clean water, Londeka took a stand and took on the local authorities. “First I raised the issue with the local councillor, who responded positively and got water delivery revived. But the results did not last long as things reverted to the intermittent service. Next, I took to phoning the Mandeni municipal offices. Every time I laid a complaint, trucks were deployed to deliver the water. Still dissatisfied, I ended up physically showing up at the municipal offices so that the authorities could take me more seriously. I read them my constitutional right to water. Now the water gets delivered fortnightly, sometimes every third week.”
The young activist is proud she took a stand because now the entire community of eVutha is once again enjoying regular water delivery. “I know this was not enough; however, it was a worthy start.”
Londeka now wants to find an alternative and more sustainable solution to the water problem at eVutha. Even though she does not know what that solution will be, Londeka knows that many communities supplement their water needs from groundwater sources. That is why in her studies she now wants to also pursue in-depth knowledge of groundwater: how it flows and how best to preserve its integrity.
Her love for geology developed in high school, “when I became fascinated with geomorphology. I became curious about the intricate processes that formed our planet.” She has since obtained a Bachelor of Science qualification in Geological Sciences and an Honours in Geology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. “This background and living in eVutha got me thinking of alternative water solutions for my people. It further took noticing a wet patch of land one day – although we had been in a long period of drought – to remember what I had learnt in hydrogeology, a study that deals with groundwater reserves. Tapping into such a resource would probably bring relief to my village. My thoughts wander way beyond water for daily domestic usage as I dream of possibilities for irrigation, food security, health, industrial and economic development.”
Thanks to being awarded the Commonwealth Scholarship, Londeka is getting closer to realising her dream. She expects to enrol at the University of Birmingham from 1 October 2018.
What does she intend to do after returning to South Africa?
“I will most definitely volunteer my services to any organisation that deals with water-related issues – especially delivering or providing access to good quality water – even if the main source is not groundwater,” she says, thinking of the high graduate unemployment rate in the country. “By volunteering, I will not only gain valuable experience, I will also grow my network of contacts in the water industry.” She expects that while volunteering her services, she will also be pursuing doctoral studies either part-time of fulltime. “I can predict that my research will be into hydrogeology and its feasibility as a clean water solution to the rural populace in South Africa.”
Londeka’s hobbies include yoga, watching movies and television series, watching cricket, rugby and soccer as well as reading novels.
Dean Bunce hopes to improve South Africa’s financial services industry
Another awardee is Mr Dean Bunce (23), a 2017 Actuarial Science graduate from the University of Cape Town. He will be studying Computational Statistics and Machine Learning at the University College London (UCL). His love for this field was nurtured while studying statistics during his undergraduate degree. “The broad and interesting applications of Statistics made me want to pursue the field further. This, along with the explosion in computing power and importance of data analytics made UCL’s degree in Computational Statistics and Machine Learning an attractive option.”
Mr Dean Bunce wants to contribute to integrating new technologies and artificial intelligence into business to create a sector that is transparent, robust and accessible to all South Africans.
|Dean says Machine Learning is one of the most exciting areas of human interest and it is urgently being incorporated into businesses in all sectors of the economy. “UCL is a leader in Statistics and Computer Science, which provides exposure to people and ideas from all over the world. It is therefore an ideal place to learn and acquire skills that I can bring back home.”|
He says even though South Africa has begun the adoption of these techniques and technologies, it is still lagging behind global leaders. “I see myself playing a role in the disruption of the financial services industry. Development of this sort can lead to products that are better designed and more efficient, transparent and personalised. I want to create value for more South Africans in this space, especially those for whom traditional financial services are inaccessible or too costly.”To be precise, Dean wants to play a role in integrating new technologies and artificial intelligence into business, with a view of creating a sector that is transparent, robust and accessible to all South Africans.
A Johannesburger by birth and upbringing, Dean went to Cape Town for study purposes. He spends his leisure time playing and watching football, playing the guitar or reading. “I am especially interested in the broader philosophical questions raised by the development of artificial intelligence, as well as philosophy in general and risk management.” He expects to start at UCL on 17 September.
Katrina Leela Lehmann-Grube dreams of a professorship and more … one day
After reading for a Bachelor of Science majoring in Applied Biology, Ecology and Evolution at the University of Cape Town, Ms Katrina Lehmann-Grube hopes to expand her horizons by bringing in a social science perspective to her understanding of the environment and its problems. She is about to enrol for an MSc in Environment, Politics and Development at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
Once qualified, Katrina wants to gain some experience in the field of environmental research in South Africa. “This could be in the form of research assistance in a university department, an independent research institute or local government,” she says, further explaining that this would be necessary for her to develop a clearer understanding of the environmental problems South Africa is currently facing.
Ms Katrina Leela Lehmann-Grube is an Environment, Politics and Development professor-in-the-making
“Ideally, this experience would also allow me to develop ideas for my doctoral research. Long term, my goal is to become a professor at a South African university. I have always wanted to work in academia as it hopefully provides continuous intellectual growth. As a professor, one can play an important role in society through research and one is able to contribute meaningfully to the next generation. I would also like to work beyond the confines of academia by engaging in civil society and government to build and apply efficient policies, based on sound evidence and justice considerations.”
She says she is extremely grateful to be a recipient of the Commonwealth Scholarship. Without it, she would not have had the opportunity to study overseas. “Studying at a different institution in a different country allows one to broaden one’s personal and academic perspectives, ultimately improving the quality of one’s work. As someone who has only been educated in one department, at one institution, I am very excited for this new phase.”
Katrina enjoys travelling and engaging with different societies and cultures. “Doing so has provided me with some understanding that there are a multitude of ways in which people see, experience and understand the world.”
All these sentiments truly demonstrate the spirit captured in the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan motto of development with a purpose.
At the time that the scholars attended the pre-departure briefing event in Gauteng, 18 of the 31 offered the Commonwealth Scholarship for 2018 had accepted the offer. The master’s lot among the 18 will be pursuing one-year taught programmes in disciplines ranging from Architecture to Aural and Oral Sciences, Development Studies, Information Systems, Microbiology, Social Work and Urban and Regional Planning. The doctoral candidates will be reading and doing research in fields including Agriculture, Computer Sciences, Geographical Studies, Law and Linguistics. They will be enrolling at institutions including Cranfield University, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Commonwealth alumni are being organised to form a formidable force of agents for South Africa’s transformation.
Whatever their aspirations, the scholars are headed for a life-changing experience of top-quality teaching, learning and research at the UK’s world-class institutions. They are being encouraged to maintain contact with the network of Commonwealth alumni while in the UK and when they return. The idea is to nurture a solid cadre of Commonwealth agents for South Africa’s transformation. Over time the network will grow to other chapters in the region, the continent and ultimately the globe.