Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by the
Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (Int Dev 12)

Background and Declaration of Interests

The Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom is a Non-Departmental Public Body, established by Act of Parliament in 1959. The Commission manages the United Kingdom contribution to the international Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, through which individual Commonwealth countries offer training and educational opportunities to citizens of other member states. As noted below, DFID is the dominant funder of the Commission, which also receives support from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, the Scottish Government and individual UK universities. The Commission also has strong relationships with the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which provides its Secretariat, and the British Council, which also provi des defined administrative services.

The work of the Commission received favourable comment in the 2004 Report of the Select Committee. Paragraphs 112-116, in particular, commented favourably on the introduction of ‘innovative approaches’ such as the introduction of split-site and distance learning scholarships, and on the continuing policy of the Commission to support doctorates, despite the fact that these were significantly more expensive than taught Masters courses. The Committee also commended the Commission for following a ‘demand led’ approach, noting that this had led to a higher proportion of awards in science and technology than other scholarship schemes, and for the strong representation of science and technology in the review process for applications.

In their response, the Government welcomed the ‘encouraging comments’, and undertook to ensure that ‘the Plan remains at the cutting edge of providing opportunities for study in science and technology.’ This note reviews the extent to which DFID, as the lead department responsible for the Commission, has maintained this commitment, and emerging evidence about the impact of the scheme on development. It also makes observations on the first three Questions in the Committee’s Terms of Reference.

Nature of our Provision

Governments of both parties have affirmed their support for the Commission since 2004, a confidence re-affirmed by a favourable external review in 2007, and a further positive DFID review in 2010. DFID funding for the period 2011-15 has recently been confirmed at £87 million, a significant increase on the three year funding allocation of £51 million for the period from 2008-11. UK universities have also demonstrated their support for the programme, and now routinely contribute to the programme by contributing at least 20% of the cost of tuition fees, and in many cases more. The Department of Business Innovation and Skills contributes £400,000 per year, to ensure that awards are still available for high quality candidates from developed Commonwealth countries, and the Scottish Government currently contributes £50,000 per year.

The Commission currently provides seven different types of award, each tailored to a specific need: PhDs (full-time and split site); Master’s awards (standard, shared with universities, and distance based), academic fellowships and professional fellowships, both aimed at staff in mid-career.

Representation of Science in the Programme

Science has continued to be well represented in the programme, reflecting our view of its importance to development. Of 2860 new awards made in the four years from 2007-10, 36% are classified as being in science and technology. A further 9% took up awards classified as Agriculture, Forestry, Veterinary Science and Environment, and a further 15% in Medicine, Dentistry and Public Health, although the latter category also includes some social science awards.

The Commission has no fixed quota for scientists, continuing to place the emphasis on the quality and relevance of individual applications. These are judged by three criteria – academic merit, likely contribution to international development and the quality of the application itself, with marks being awarded in a ratio of 5:5:2 It believes, however, that continued presence of doctorates in its programme represents a key reason for the high proportion of science amongst award holders. The Commission’s continued desire to support high quality doctoral research is continued in its Strategic Plan for 2011-15, which anticipates that doctorates will continue to account for 36-39% of expenditure over the period.

Development of New Approaches

The innovative approaches commented on by the Committee in 2004 have also continued to expand. 27% of awards over the 2007-10 period were through distance learning – with recipients studying for UK qualifications but spending either no or very short periods in the United Kingdom. Short professional awards, allowing individuals in key development occupations to spend up to three months with host organisations in the UK, have also increased – representing 10% of awards during the same period. Split-site awards, the other new initiative commended in the 2004 Report, have developed more cautiously. There have been 97 of awards over the period, representing 4% of the total. Our caution in this area reflects the need for a stronger recruitment route for strong candidates, with the facilities in their home country to complete that work not undertaken in the United Kingdom.

The one type of award over which the Committee expressed some reservations in its previous report – Institutional Capacity Grants – has been discontinued. The aim of these awards – which were in a pilot phase at the time of the last Select Committee report – was to concentrate scholarships and fellowships on particular departments or institutions. In practice, tensions emerged between the desire to achieve this and our overriding aim of supporting the best individual candidates according to our selection criteria set out above. It was considered that this emphasis on the qualities of individual candidates represented the best prospect of impact in the long-term.

Evidence of Impact

Since 2007, the Commission has embarked on a substantial programme of alumni tracing and evaluation. It is now in contact with over 7,000 former award holders. . An alumni survey, which generated a response rate of almost 40%, found that between 88 and 92% of alumni reported working in their own, or another developing country. In the same survey, of the 90% reporting impact in one or more key priority areas for development, 63% did so in Scientific and Research Applications.

Not surprisingly, given the emphasis on doctorates, and the fact that developing country universities are a leading nominating route, higher education was the largest single destination for alumni respondents to this survey, with just over half working in this area. 93% accessed equipment and expertise not available in their home country and 93% reported that their award had to some extent increased their ability to have influence and make changes at work. The surveys also revealed many individual examples of impact, some of which can be seen from the Appendix below.

It is likely the impact of the programme extends beyond development to wider public diplomacy; since 71% with reported continuing links with their host universities, 55% work contacts and 51% contact with a professional association in the UK. 25% reported holding some form of elected office. The increasing willingness of universities to actively contribute to our awards also demonstrates the very high quality of candidate which Commonwealth Scholarships attract, which in turn contributes to Britain’s international standing.

These findings, and the level of contact with alumni that underpins them, are already significantly further advanced than for most international scholarship schemes, but we recognise the need for much deeper analysis to determine detailed impact. Our Strategic Plan for the next four years includes increased provision for this area, both through expanded and more systematic alumni studies, and more in-depth work to drill down into specific sectors.

Observations to the Committee

In view of our role as a Non-Departmental Public Body, much of the above information is factual in nature. We would, however, like to make the following observations on the key questions posed in the Terms of Reference for the Committee:

Question 1 – How does the UK support capacity building, and how could this improve?

The activities described above are intended to major a major contribution to the overall UK effort in this area. We consider it important that the UK adopts both a balanced approach, and recognises the need for a long-term perspective. Hence our programmes are open both to students and those involved in a range of occupations, across a range of professions.

It is important, too, that such capacity building is judged on the likely catalytic impact, rather than the impact on the recipient only. Whilst this observation applies to all of our awards, it is perhaps most relevant to those at doctoral level. Although the cost of such awards is substantial, we believe, that the ‘payback’ from such candidates, in terms of the numbers that they will teach, or that their research will influence, can justify such levels of investment. This is particularly the case in the areas of science and technology.

Whilst our evaluation results confirm that the proportion of students completing their awards and returning to their home countries are consistently high, we recognise that more consideration needs to be given to supporting such individuals in the period immediately after their return, to ensure that their skills is utilised to best effect.

In this context, we note recent evidence from the British Academy and other studies that point to the lack of early career development structures within African universities. This finding is supported by anecdotal evidence from our own alumni. As higher proportions of highly qualified staff return, or indeed study for qualifications within Africa, we believe it important to support their work at an early stage of their career. In the long term, a parallel programme to the CSC which supports the long term development of African universities as institutions would be one way of achieving this. In the shorter-term, much could be achieved by identifying ways in which returning academics could retain links with the UK institutions. Such investment would not be expensive, benefit both the UK science base and help ensure retention of academic staff within the developing country concerned.

The introduction of such support might be considered outside the current scope of the Commission, which is confined to the provision of scholarships and fellowships. It would, however, play an important role in maximising the impact of our investment. We would be happy to discuss extending the role of the Commission into this area, or alternatively working alongside any further scheme that might be established

Question 2 - What are the most effective models to support research capacity in developing countries?

Effective research capacity requires investment at both individual and institutional level, and a coordinated approach between initiatives. Some progress has been made in both of these areas in recent years, but we believe that more could be done.

The work of the Commission has primarily been focussed at the individual level. We are proud of the fact that, during a decade in which universities were largely disregarded as a recipient of development aid (both in the UK and internationally), the Commission continued to recognise the needs of the sector. The benefits of this investment can be seen by the large numbers of academics and researchers in the critical ‘middle age’ period where African universities, in particular, report significant shortages. Whilst our awards support capacity across a wide range of areas, academic and research careers still provide the largest single destination for our award holders.

Now that the benefits of higher education and research are more widely recognised, it is important that UK government initiatives in the field adopt a coordinated approach. As the major HMG provider of scholarships whose prime aim is focussed on international development, the Commission can provide a valuable resource to other areas of DFID and the development sector. We have already made a start on this. DFID funded research consortia, and programmes funded under the DFID Development Partnerships in Higher Education programme, are invited to nominate candidates (in open competition with other sources) for our awards. In a recent development, our alumni programme has just provided four in-country consultants to assist in the evaluation of the DFID funded Development Partnerships in Higher Education (DELPHE) programme. We believe that much further potential exists to explore synergies between scholarships and other areas of DFID capacity building, particularly in the area of research.

Question 3 – How does Government evaluate the effectiveness of science capacity building?

Our own experience in developing an evaluation programme for the CSC over the past five years suggests that evaluation of scholarship provision is an area in which the UK could be at the cutting edge of international practice. We regard our evaluation reports of recent years as a starting point in regard. Relatively few international donors have developed such robust alumni surveys. We do, however, need to know much more about the detailed impact that our awards have. The Commission is keen to lead international developments in this area, and has convened an international seminar to share good practice in March 2012.

One preliminary comment we would make, however, is the need for such evaluation to take a longer-term perspective. In evaluating scholarships, the ‘pay back’ time of an investment can be spread over thirty years or more. Often the nature of provision will have changed in the interim. For example, the evaluation of our programmes reflects the selection methods and criteria of the time in which the awards were made. Such issues are not easily addressed within the current reporting mechanisms of DFID, which sometimes tend to focus on arbitrary project and funding periods, although the two independent reviews of the Commission’s work that have taken place in recent years have sought to recognise them.


The Commission was grateful for the recognition given by the Committee to its work in the 2004, and believes that this is increasingly recognised within DFID. We are particularly grateful for the enhanced support of our work by both the current and previous governments, whilst recognising that support for international scholarships generally in the UK continues to lag behind those of other developed countries.

We believe scholarships will continue to play an important role in scientific capacity building, and this is evidenced both by the proportion of awards made in science related fields, and the evidence of impact through our alumni studies to date, We recognise, however, that more could be done to coordinate such activities within DFID, and that there is a need internationally to develop evaluation tools that better reflect the long term nature of our investments.

By way of further illustration of our work, we attach some specific examples of Commonwealth Scholars for information.


Appendix One : Commonwealth Scholarships and scientific capacity building in developing countries – case studies

Dr Judith Henry-Mowatt (1998 Commonwealth Scholar from Jamaica, PhD in Toxicology at the University of Manchester) spent her award researching in the field of genotoxicity, and she believes that her award has had a wide impact, not just on her career but in her professional field. Judith’s appointment as Director of the Forensic Science Laboratory at the Ministry of National Security in 2007 has enabled her to modernise the institution. ‘As a civil servant, I would not have been able to afford my PhD. The Commonwealth Scholarship award made this dream a reality and has given me the training to make a tangible difference to my place of work and to Jamaica as a whole.’

Judith has participated in drafting the terms and conditions for the operation of Jamaica’s first sexual offenders’ register, and has written the proposal documents for the establishment of a national DNA database. She has also been instrumental in the reorganisation and restructuring of the island’s Rape Units. Internationally, Judith is Jamaica’s forensic representative to Interpol and on the forensic subcommittee of the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security, and is one of the country’s representatives on the Caribbean DNA working group.

Judith is also actively involved in training scientists of the future. She has contributed to the development of a Master’s course in Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and has assisted in the establishing of a BSc programme in Forensics at the University of Technology. She is a part-time lecturer in Toxicology at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and has also taught at the University of Technology.

Professor Omkar Wakhlu was part of our first-ever cohort of Commonwealth Scholars, holding a Commonwealth Scholarship from 1960-1963. He obtained his DPhil in Fluid Mechanics from the University of Birmingham. Professor Wakhlu’s work is in the field of promoting quality in engineering education and the development of research facilities in water resource engineering. He is currently working in the areas of water resources engineering, sustainable development, and leadership and quality in education. During his academic career, he has had the opportunity to influence and teach many at the beginning of their careers. As he himself estimates, ‘Approximately 2,000 engineers have graduated after training during my active academic term of 12 years. Many of them work as chief engineers in India and other countries’. He has also conducted several management development programmes in both private and public sector organisations, and is actively engaged as a postgraduate research examiner.

Professor Md Jahiruddin was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship in 1983, and obtained his PhD in Soil Science from the University of Aberdeen. He returned to Aberdeen as a Commonwealth Academic Fellow in 1996. Currently Professor of Soil Science at Bangladesh Agricultural University, he passes on his knowledge through teaching both undergraduate and postgraduate students, supervising Master’s and doctoral students, and carrying out contract research projects.

‘I have been able to contribute to agricultural research and development in Bangladesh. My research interest lies in two important aspects: micronutrient deficiency in soils and crops, and heavy metal pollution. I have already achieved some significant results which have both national and international value.’

Professor Jahiruddin has successfully determined zinc and boron rates for different crops and cropping patterns in Bangladesh, which have appeared in the National Fertilizer Recommendation Guide, for use by farmers. Recently, he has taken much interest in arsenic contamination, which is a severe problem in Bangladesh, and has investigated arsenic levels in groundwater and soils, and its absorption and accumulation in crops. He has presented his research results in international forums and seminars, and published them in internationally-respected journals. He has also established a modern soil chemistry laboratory at his home institution. In addition to teaching and research, he is involved in other professional and voluntary activities.

Dr Md Monzur Hossain held a Commonwealth Academic Fellowship in Applied Molecular Biology at the University of Nottingham in 2001. Now Professor of the Department of Botany at Rajshahi University, Bangladesh, he, along with his team members, has developed a module for the establishment of a cost-effective commercial tissue culture laboratory, using indigenously-manufactured equipment and apparatus, for the production of disease-indexed high-quality seed potato tubers and other crops. This and other activities have contributed to the establishment of more than 30 tissue culture-based seed potato farms in the private, public and NGO sectors, reducing the need for imports.

This technology has also been successfully transferred to grassroots level, with many farmers becoming involved in producing high-quality seed potato tubers using tissue culture-derived planting materials, and then selling their produce to other farmers. His team has also developed three new strawberry varieties that are suitable for commercial cultivation in Bangladesh.

‘These varieties are being used for commercial cultivation for the first time in Bangladesh. This achievement has been highly appreciated by farmers and intellectuals, and has received wide publicity in both print and electronic media.’

Dr Jackson Mwakali is Professor of Structural Engineering at Makerere University, Uganda – the first professor in engineering to be produced by the university in its almost 90-year history. He was awarded two Commonwealth Scholarships in the mid-1980s, obtaining an MSc and a PhD in Structural Engineering from the University of Surrey. Alongside teaching at undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral levels, he also undertakes research and, outside of the university, is Chairman of the Engineers Registration Board, Uganda National Bureau of Standards Technical Committee on Civil Engineering, and the Bujagali Hydropower Project Monitoring Committee. He is also a member of the National Environment Management Authority’s Technical Committee on Environmental Impact Assessment and the Uganda Investment Authority’s National Industrial Parks Planning Committee.

‘I have been consulted widely on the improvement of the construction industry in Uganda, on matters such as how to reduce workplace accidents, and how to best plan physical infrastructure. I have also been involved in numerous technical investigations involving building accidents and dispute resolutions. As a member of several technical committees, I make inputs that influence policies related to environmental management, engineering education, public safety, and so. As a professional engineer, I am involved in consultancies that help solve engineering problems for the benefit of Ugandan and wider society.’

Dr Mwakali has also contributed to long-term impact in this sector through his academic career. Formerly Head of the Department of Civil Engineering at Makerere University, he presided over its growth from around 200 to more than 400 undergraduate and postgraduate students in under ten years, as well as the addition of a new Department of Construction Economics and Management.

Professor Steven Chown was awarded a Commonwealth Academic Fellowship in 1996, spending a year at the University of Sheffield working with Professor Kevin Gaston on Macroecology and Ecophysiology. Since returning to South Africa, he has developed and now directs one of the country’s seven centres of excellence, the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology. The main aims of the centre are to reduce the rates and impacts of biological invasions by furthering scientific understanding and predictive capability, and by developing research capacity. It not only employs many staff, but also places graduates both in South Africa and abroad.

As well as undertaking research and supervising postgraduate students within the centre, alongside his other duties, Professor Chown has influenced national environmental policy through his involvement in the development of the research and training policy for the South African National Antarctic Programme, as well as helping draft the regulations for Chapter 5 (Invasive and Alien Species) of the Biodiversity Act.

Professor Anoja Wickramasinghe studied for a PhD in Forest Ecology at the University of Sheffield in the early 1980s, on a Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship. Now Emeritus Professor at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, the university which nominated her for her Commonwealth Scholarship back in 1980, she is currently engaged in a range of work related to forest ecology, including ethnoforestry, renewable energy development, gender mainstreaming, and rural and community development. Her work is wide-ranging, and involves teaching, administration, research, supervision, training, dissemination of knowledge, action projects and programmes, consultancy and advocacy, grassroots mobilisation, capacity building, and empowerment. She has contributed towards building local capacity and social capital in more than five administrative districts, through the establishment of women’s organisations, revolving funds, and income generating activities. Significant changes in rural areas have also been achieved through the livelihood development of communities adjoining villages, alongside policy sensitisation work, and the integration of energy into rural development.

Dr Aweeda Newaj-Fyzul is a 2005 Split-site Scholar from Trinidad and Tobago, and spent 12 months at Heriot-Watt University as part of her University of the West Indies (UWI) PhD in Fish Disease and Pathology. She is now based at UWI’s St Augustine campus, where she lectures in fish health and microbiology. Dr Newaj-Fyzul also supervises postgraduate and undergraduate students in fish-related projects, as well as conducting her own research and acting as a consultant and training provider for Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education.

Two of Dr Newaj-Fyzul’s main achievements include the design and construction of an aquaculture unit at UWI, and the development of an aquaculture course for the government of Trinidad and Tobago.

‘Aquaculture is now being introduced at the School of Veterinary Medicine, where there were no ‘fish labs’ or aquaria previously. I have designed and built an aqua culture unit through funding received from the university. This project has led to four students undertaking Master’s degree programmes in fish-related topics, where I am involved in supervision. I am in charge of the unit, which includes two technicians and three assistants.

‘With the closure of a major portion of the agriculture sector in Trinidad, over 10,000 people were out of work. I assisted the government in retraining and retooling some of these workers into the field of aquaculture. I assisted in developing a course and assessment package for the government, which has led to the training of over 300 people in aquaculture. Some have opened fish farms and others have even begun exporting fish. At present, I am still teaching this course for the Ministry of Science and Tertiary Education, and it has been extended to young people who have dropped out of school.’

Grace Aneju is an assistant lecturer in the Department of Physics at Benue State University, Nigeria. In 2002, she was awarded a Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship to study for an MSc in Medical Physics at the University of Aberdeen. She feels that her award has enabled her to both gain and apply key skills and experience in her work.

‘Since taking the Master’s programme, I have been teaching in the university and would say that the experience of studying in the UK has enhanced my teaching skills. I have developed both theoretical and practical knowledge in the field of medical physics, which has helped me to be a better teacher through teaching from personal experience. I have been able to contribute immensely to the training of many graduates in physics, as well as to the development of scientific skills of young physics undergraduates. I have also been able to apply some of the research skills I gained during the course to similar

Commonwealth Scholarship Commission

15 December 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011