Every year the CSC works with over 50 UK universities to provide Commonwealth Shared Scholarships for applicants from low- and middle-income countries. In collaboration with our university partners, we help to enhance internationalisation within UK higher education and support a range of specialist courses addressing key development needs across the Commonwealth.
Last month, three Commonwealth Shared Scholars at Oxford Brookes shared their experiences of studying this year and how they hope to create positive change in their home countries after their scholarship.
Imiete Akebin, Charity Akoto, and Richmond Amponsah all arrived at Oxford Brookes in November 2020 to begin their Master’s courses. Undertaking a postgraduate degree in the middle of a global pandemic was always likely to be challenging, but each Scholar has adapted to the new learning environment and has been able to navigate campus life at Oxford Brookes fuelled by their desire to change things for the better.
Imiete Akebin is a case in point. Driven by his passion to support human rights in his home country of Nigeria, he is studying for a Master’s degree in International Human Rights Law. Imiete says he wants to make a difference in a society where human rights violations are more frequent: “This Master’s course helps me do this, giving me access to the latest law theory and ways of applying it to the real world.”
For Imiete, this involves holding the government in Nigeria to account and compelling it to deliver on its international human rights obligations. Imiete is already an influential voice in the human rights field; though he heads up public interest advocacy at Nigeria’s Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Imiete believes more can be done to orientate institutions and policy making in Nigeria with international standards.
“My aim is to support institutions who are working to align national level policy making with international treaty norms”, he explains. “We need to update regulatory, legal and ethical frameworks in policy areas like telecommunications, the international criminal justice system and managing toxic waste, so they align with international public policy.”
Having the opportunity to equip himself with the skills and networks he needs is down to the scholarship. Imiete says he was drawn to Oxford Brookes both as “a world-class research institution” and for its blend of smaller-scale teaching in seminars, workshops and reading groups, as well as independent study. Imiete admits that this year has been demanding but has found new resolve through studying: “The greatest joy is that in the midst of these challenges, study so far has been intellectually stimulating. I maintain my sanity by scribbling on a piece of paper.”
Additionally, Imiete deeply values the diversity of students at Oxford Brookes, noting that it has given him “a new understanding of different cultures and mindsets and a strong cultural awareness – it makes it one of the most exciting learning environments anywhere.”
Charity Akoto has her sights firmly fixed on improving people’s lives back home in Ghana: “Receiving this scholarship was about setting me on the right path so I can make relevant contributions to society – which is very important to me.”
Studying for a Master’s in Infrastructure and Sustainable Development, Charity aims to improve essential infrastructure in Ghana, which in the past has seen uneven development across different regions. Charity explains that, as a result of this, the south of the country has seen an influx of migration owing to inadequate infrastructure in other areas, and this has resulted in deep regional disparities.
Ultimately, Charity aspires to join one of the central agencies responsible for developing infrastructure at a local level. “I want to channel my knowledge and skills into improving the many informal settlements that exist, providing the resilient infrastructure that is needed for sustainable development.”
Like Imiete, Charity believes that forming good connections and networking are key to achieving her goal, and, along with its academic reputation, she was attracted to the thriving community of international students at Oxford Brookes. “Not only am l in a supportive environment, but I feel the opportunities to network with people from all parts of the world are very necessary to creating change within my home country”.
Given the limits of lockdown, Charity observes that it has not always been easy getting to know other students. “I’ve been interacting with my fellow colleagues and that’s been helpful, but it is quite difficult to maintain. I’m looking forward to building on that once lockdown eases. The in-class learning experience has also been significantly affected, but it has in no way influenced my study patterns or the outcomes I expect from myself.”
Despite the difficulties, Charity has been enjoying her surroundings at Oxford Brookes. “I love the strikingly beautiful facade of the John Henry Brookes Building. It has a lovely atmosphere – perfect for studying.” Once restrictions are eased, she’s keen to explore Oxford further. “I can’t wait to see more of the distinctive historic architecture of the city and all the other things on offer”.
Richmond Amponsah also wants to address challenges around development in his home country of Ghana and beyond. He was drawn to the Master’s course in Development and Emergency Practice because it looks at solutions from a range of perspectives. “The course focuses on designing solutions which take into account international development and humanitarianism, as well as looking at conflict resolution, human rights protection, and disaster management”.
Richmond hopes that his scholarship will put him on track to becoming a development manager, so he can influence policy frameworks and help to address critical issues like urbanisation and climate change. Longer term, Richmond wants to become a university professor to support a new generation of development practitioners. Setting up an NGO in his hometown of Jinijini in the Bono Region of Ghana is another dream. “There’s a lot of poverty and hardship in the area, so the NGO would provide humanitarian support and relief support for poor, marginalised and vulnerable people locally.”
Receiving a Commonwealth Scholarship has been a crucial part of Richmond’s story: “Coming from a developing country and looking at my financial background there was no way I could self-fund my postgraduate studies”.
Richmond feels he has adjusted well to studying online at the University. “Oxford Brookes made a quick transition into delivering quality academic training online via Zoom. My module leaders have also been helpful with further training needs and in clarifying things.” He has enjoyed meeting and learning alongside students from different cultures but is looking forward to seeing people in person when that becomes possible.
As three successful recipients of the Commonwealth Scholarship, what advice would each give to someone going for a scholarship? “As well as ensuring the scholarship matches your own goals, believe in yourself and your capabilities”, Charity advises. Imiete agrees, “Never stop believing, keep pushing until something happens.” For Richmond, perseverance is the most important quality an aspiring applicant needs. Despite previous unsuccessful attempts to gain a scholarship, he remained undeterred: “I was determined to become a Commonwealth Scholar one day. So, I applied again, and here I am now – a proud Commonwealth Scholar!”