Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom

Executive Summary

This submission concentrates primarily on key questions that relate to the work of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom, rather than seeking to address all of the issues posed by the Committee in depth.

The most effective Commonwealth activities demonstrate reciprocity, partnership, and relevance.

It is important that the activities of the Commonwealth are genuinely Commonwealth wide. In the case of Commonwealth Scholarships, it is important that these are available to citizens of developed, as well as developing, Commonwealth countries.

Commonwealth activities also need to be relevant to individuals, in particular the next generation. Commonwealth Scholarships, particularly focused on individuals who aspire to become leaders in their respective professions, closely meet these needs, as well as bringing clear benefits for both home and host country.

The established track record and Commonwealth branding of these scholarships give them additional prestige, and recognition, which could not easily be re-created if lost.

For many Commonwealth activities, there is a need to ensure that goodwill and recognition are converted into practical benefit – for the UK, other member states, and the Commonwealth itself. For these benefits to be realised, funding is important, as well as raising the profile of Commonwealth branding in all relevant activities, and ensuring that government agencies remain open to utilising the goodwill and expertise available in their wider activities.


1. The Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom (CSC) is a UK Non-Departmental Public Body, established by Act of Parliament. Our lead department, and major funding body, is the Department for International Development (DFID), but financial support has also been provided in the current year by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Scottish Government, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), in addition to substantial in-kind support from UK universities. Government support in 2011–12 will total approximately £19.8 million, making Commonwealth Scholarships one of the largest direct contributions that HMG makes to a Commonwealth-branded activity. Over 17,000 individuals, from every Commonwealth country, have been awarded Commonwealth Scholarships or Fellowships by the CSC.

2. The role of the CSC is to manage the UK contribution to the international Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP). The CSFP was established by Commonwealth Education Ministers in 1959 to provide a framework through which member countries could (at their discretion) offer Commonwealth Scholarships and Commonwealth Fellowships to citizens of other member states. The UK is the largest contributor to the Plan, but by no means the only one. Commonwealth Scholarships are also offered by and held in Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Trinidad and Tobago, funded by governments or universities in the countries concerned. In 2011, Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships were also held in Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, Samoa, and Tanzania, with support for the first time from a new CSFP Endowment Fund, established to mark the 50th anniversary of the Plan.

Scope of our Submission

3. Our submission is intended to add further detail about the CSC’s work to the supportive mentions contained in the submission from HMG, which we acknowledge. We also acknowledge the significant support of both the current and previous Governments, both of whom have extended funding following a period of decline in the previous decade.

4. In view of the above, our submission concentrates primarily on key questions that relate to the work of the CSC, rather than seeking to address all of the issues posed by the Committee in depth.

What is the future of the Commonwealth and what reforms are needed if the Commonwealth is to be successful?

5. The CSC strongly endorses the comment of Lord Howell, cited in the main HMG response, that the Commonwealth represents “the soft power network of the future”. In our dealings with both other national governments and individuals, we are struck by the distinctive role that the Commonwealth is seen to play. Our impression is that this role is recognised much more strongly in many other member states than the UK, and, once lost, would be impossible to re-create amongst such a diverse group of countries.

6. This relationship cannot, however, be taken for granted. In this context, we would urge that future policy take account of the following principles, each of which relate closely to our own work.

(a)Reciprocity – It is important to re-assert the role of the Commonwealth in promoting the flow of knowledge, mobility, and other benefits between member states, rather than as a one-way mechanism for transfer between north and south. It is, therefore, important that, under the CSFP, almost 1,000 UK citizens have had the opportunity to study abroad – many in developing country locations unlikely to be available through any other route.

(b)Partnership – CSFP awards are distinctive in that both home and host countries are involved in the selection process. While a constant need exists to review precise methods to take advantage of new technology, we believe this concept adds greatly to mutual understanding.

(c)Relevance – A constant need exists for Commonwealth activities (including scholarships and fellowships) to embrace new participant groups. In our case, this has been achieved by introducing new forms of short awards for mid-career professionals, and awards by distance learning for those unable to leave their jobs and countries. These supplement our traditional academic awards, which continue to play an important role in our provision. We also seek to ensure, through the use of nominating agencies in partner countries, that the scholarships and fellowships we offer are indeed relevant to their needs.

7. If the Commonwealth is to retain its coherence and identity, it is also important that its activities are genuinely Commonwealth wide. It should be recognised, for example, that although the Commonwealth provides an excellent route for international development activity, its potential extends beyond this. In the case of Commonwealth Scholarships, it is important that these are available to citizens of developed, as well as developing, Commonwealth countries. We value the important role that BIS has played in funding scholarships for citizens of those countries outside DFID’s legal remit, thus maintaining the role of Commonwealth Scholarships as a genuinely Commonwealth-wide programme.

8. Most significantly, Commonwealth provision needs constant refreshment to make sure that it is relevant to individuals, in particular the next generation. The provision of scholarships, particularly focused on individuals who aspire to become leaders in their respective professions, closely meets these needs, as well as bringing clear benefits for both home and host country, as described below

What direct benefits does the Commonwealth bring to citizens of the UK?

9. We welcome recognition of the trade benefits which the Commonwealth brings to the UK, and particularly recognition of evidence that the CSC contributes to the public diplomacy aims of the FCO and wider government. We do not aim to replicate this wider evidence in this section, but to supplement it with additional evidence from our own evaluation activity.

10. Strong evidence exists to confirm both that Commonwealth Scholars rise to positions of influence following their awards, and that they maintain contact with the UK while doing so. We are at present in contact with some 7,700 of our alumni. Despite the natural bias towards more recent alumni, over 200 have already been identified as reaching the rank of Cabinet Minister, Permanent Secretary, High Court Judge, Central Bank Governor or University Vice-Chancellor. In responses from over 2,200 alumni to a recent survey, over 40% claimed to have influenced policy in their home countries in some way (most citing examples) and 25% had held some form of public or elected office. 92% maintained links with the UK to at least some extent. This went beyond social contact and communication with their host university, to include significant numbers who maintained contact as part of their work (55%) and with UK professional associations (50%). Such benefits are widely recognised by other European countries. A recent study demonstrates that other European countries, most notably France and Germany, are significantly more generous than the UK in encouraging international study amongst citizens from countries with which they share close historical ties.1

11. This contact arises naturally from the development of close working relationships and experiences while in the UK. We are, however, aware of the need both to further evaluate the impact, and to use such connections systematically where possible. On the former issue, the CSC commenced a programme of evaluation in 2007. During the current funding phase (2011–2015) we seek to expand this, with the full engagement of DFID evaluation specialists to drill further down into the detailed impact of our awards over time. In so doing, we believe that the UK is amongst the leaders in this field; indeed, we are hosting an international seminar on the evaluation of scholarship impacts in March 2012.

12. Much is being done to ensure that the goodwill and expertise generated by our awards is available to government and other UK organisations. High Commissions and DFID country offices have lists of alumni in their respective countries, and a searchable alumni index (updated annually, and including career profiles as well as names) is available on the web at Award holders are strongly encouraged to participate in Commonwealth-related activities in the UK and on their return home. Expertise is also made available to other UK government departments. For example, the CSC has recently recommended four alumni to undertake independent analysis of the Development Partnerships in Higher Education (DelPHE) programmes in their home countries for DFID.

13. Commonwealth links are important in supporting and sustaining higher education systems in Commonwealth countries. In the UK, the CSC in particular plays a role in the drive to ensure that the UK higher education sector retains its place as a world leader. This is currently recognised by both BIS – which has confirmed level cash support for Commonwealth Scholarships (although a reduction from previous FCO funding) – and individual host universities, which contribute significantly towards fees. Both recognise the high academic standard of award holders – a fact confirmed by our analysis of success and completion rates. Many examples are available of high-quality ongoing joint research that has continued well beyond the period of the award (see Appendix 1, case studies 1–3).

What direct benefits does the Commonwealth bring to citizens of Commonwealth countries?

14. Although the UK offers Commonwealth Scholarships to citizens of all other Commonwealth countries, the existence of DFID as our main sponsor ensures that development benefit is critical to our selection and evaluation. The likely development impact of an award ranks equally with academic merit in our selection criteria. The involvement of national governments in the process also serves to ensure that national priorities are taken into account.

15. The alumni survey cited above provides encouraging evidence of such benefit. Contrary to some expectations of international scholarships, it confirms that the overwhelming majority (between 85–92%) return home. Of the remainder, a high proportion are working on projects directly relevant to their home countries, either in international organisations or at a “northern base” (see Appendix 1, case study 4).

16. As cited above, our awards are spread across a wide range of occupations and social groups, with significant numbers working in both the public and private sectors. Alumni surveys confirm, however, that academic positions remain by far the single most popular career destination. This fits with several of the questions set out by the Committee. Alumni career profiles show that many are engaged to undertake projects for their own governments. Academics are certainly likely to advance public diplomacy objectives; most will teach thousands of students over their careers, and they are also one of the most likely professions to develop independent (and often critical) thought, and pursue issues such as human rights. In recent years, there has also been a welcome shift in international recognition of the role that universities can play in development. In order to perform this role, given ever-increasing demand from students, developing countries report an urgent and continuing need for high-level qualifications. Commonwealth Scholarships play a particularly important role in meeting this need – and did so even when, as for much of the 1990s and the first half of the last decade, higher education was not regarded as a priority by the international development community.

17. Although the CSC is not able to fund significant post-award support, our alumni activity seeks to ensure continuing networking amongst those with similar professional interests. Alumni have the opportunity to join a range of professional networks (in Agriculture and Rural Development, Education, Economics and Finance, Environment, Gender, Law and Governance, Public Health, and Science and Technology), which are maintained mostly via electronic means. Increasingly, too, contact is being established with other Commonwealth associations as a means of utilising the expertise of alumni. Several Commonwealth professional associations – for example, the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, the Commonwealth Foundation, and the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation – have used our Commonwealth Professional Fellowship programme to bring contacts to the UK. The Royal Commonwealth Society was represented at the launch of our new alumni chapter in Kenya, and has continued to develop links; one of our former Commonwealth Scholars is Chair of the Royal Commonwealth Society branch in Cameroon.


18. Commonwealth Scholarships benefit both home and host countries. Their established track record and Commonwealth branding give them additional prestige, and recognition, which could not easily be re-created if lost. Most importantly, they play a significant role in refreshing knowledge of the Commonwealth amongst new generations. It is not surprising that the Commonwealth Secretary-General has cited Commonwealth Scholarships and the Commonwealth Games as being the most “recognisable” forms of Commonwealth activity amongst individual citizens. It is no exaggeration, we feel, to say that without such activities, knowledge of and affiliation with the Commonwealth would decline rapidly.

19. As with many Commonwealth activities, there is a need to ensure that goodwill and recognition are converted into practical benefit – for the UK, home countries, and the Commonwealth itself. Our increasing alumni, evaluation, and networking activities cited above play an important role, as does our increasing contact with other Commonwealth professional groups. For these benefits to be realised, in addition to continuing its funding for the programme, the UK Government should also raise the profile of Commonwealth branding in all relevant activities, and ensure that its agencies remain open to utilising the goodwill and expertise available in their wider activities.

Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom



1. Dr Buba Ibrahim Ahmed is a senior lecturer in crop production at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) in Nigeria. He held a Commonwealth Academic Fellowship at Swansea University in 2006, and with his Swansea counterpart was awarded a DelPHE grant in 2007 for collaborative research work.

The DelPHE project, of which he was lead partner and coordinator, involves developing an environmentally-friendly alternative to chemical pesticides for the control of major arthropod pests of crops in Nigeria, and is linked to the seventh Millennium Development Goal, to ensure environmental sustainability.

2. Dr Bernard Chove is a former Commonwealth Academic Scholar from Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania. He undertook his PhD in Food Engineering at the University of Reading between 1997 and 2001.

“Upon completion of my award I became actively involved in both basic and applied research and I have maintained links with my supervisors and the University of Reading in general. Together we have published two scientific papers after my graduation. On the applied research front I have been involved in several projects aimed at poverty reduction in the lower income sectors of populations. The most successful ones include the training of pastoralists in one district on the preservation of meat by solar drying and smoking. Another successful ongoing project involves women street food vendors in two municipalities. We have managed to train them on hygiene, basic bookkeeping and meal planning.”

3. Dr Mohammad Nazrul Islam held a Commonwealth Academic Fellowship in Fluvial Morphology at the University of Hull in 2006. During his Fellowship, he looked at the interactions between climate change, deforestation, land erosion, and flooding. In the same year, he was promoted to Professor at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh, where he still works, and from where he maintains links with the Department of Geography at Hull. With areas of Bangladesh particularly prone to flooding, with often devastating and far-reaching consequences for communities, his knowledge and experience in this field is highly relevant in both his professional and charitable activities.

“Currently, I am working as an environmental expert in different projects at home and abroad. I am also involved in different professional and voluntary activities with some NGOs and sociocultural organisations. I am now leading a partnership between the Department of Geography and Environment at Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh, the Department of Geography at the University of Hull, UK, and Unnayan Uddog, an NGO in Bangladesh, aiming to carry out an action research on the subject of food security through community food banks and employment generation. This work is focused on the natural disaster-prone areas in Bangladesh and is aiming to contribute to the Millennium Development Goal on food security and poverty alleviation. The project also aims to increase income and employment in the non-formal sectors by diversifying occupations through training and micro-credit with priority for women’s empowerment.”

4. Professor I M Dharmadasa was a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Durham in 1977, studying for a PhD in Solid State Electronics. After completing his award, Dharme returned to his university in Sri Lanka but, after four years as a Lecturer, his research interests in solar energy brought him back to the UK. He is now Professor of Electronic Materials and Devices at Sheffield Hallam University, specialising in research into solar panels. This has had a big impact on his home country, where he has launched a solar energy project called “Solar Village”.

The project, which evolved from Dharme’s work with five local universities, was initially aimed at building knowledge and experience in solar energy research in Sri Lankan universities and promoting renewable energy applications in the country. The pilot, in Kaduruwewa village in the Kurunegala District, used solar energy to power pumps used for water supply. Switching from diesel pumps saves money for the villagers, which can be redirected into community improvements, such as better education. An important feature of the Solar Village project is that communities are encouraged to work together to improve the environment and agriculture of their area, also facilitating community development.

“Another key feature of this Solar Village is that one of the local universities adopts this cluster of villages to guide the development of that society. The concept can be applied anywhere in the country, but individual projects within the community will vary according to the local requirements and available natural resources. Nigeria has already recognised the “Solar Village” as a very suitable social development project for their country. This project satisfies three millennium goals, namely; clean water, clean environment and reduction of poverty.”

19 January 2012

1 Kenneth King, “The Aid Politics of Overseas Scholarships and Awards”, Norrag News, 45 (2011), 10-15

Prepared 14th November 2012