The Rhodes Scholarships programme has been a “fantastic success” since it was offered to students in the UAE five years ago, the national secretary of the UAE Rhodes Scholarships committee said.
“It’s fantastic to see how the elected scholars from the UAE impress at Oxford,” said Dr Christoph Avenarius.
Dr Avenarius, who was in the country this week to meet with the two 2018 UAE Rhodes Scholars — Emirati Maitha Al Memari and Moroccan Chaimaa Fadil, both of New York University Abu Dhabi — was among the early proponents to lobby the Rhodes Trust to extend the scholarship’s geographic area to include the UAE in 2012. But at that time, with some still sceptical about the calibre of potential candidates from this region, a trial award was launched under the name “Falcon Scholarships.”
That first year, none other Shamma Al Mazrui — who was then a senior at NYUAD and is now the UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs — was named the inaugural Emirati Falcon Scholarships winner, dazzling the jury and quickly debunking misconceptions about the quality of scholars from the UAE. Ms Al Mazrui helped set high standards for the students from the UAE who have gone on to follow in her footsteps.
“It was with the success of our first selection that people then said, of course, they have fully-deserving Rhodes Scholars. It was a fantastic success,” said Dr Avenarius. “This is, for me, is a very big joy because there might have been prejudices toward the region, toward the UAE, but once they see the scholars, they are really impressed and that’s I think the best reputational enhancement that even money can’t buy.”
To date, the country has produced 10 UAE Rhodes Scholars, including six Emiratis.
Applicants from the UAE do not have to hold Emirati citizenship to apply for the UAE Rhodes Scholarships, but they do need to graduate from a university in the emirates.
To qualify, candidates must be between 19 and 25 years, have sufficiently high grades and English proficiency to be admitted to Oxford and submit a personal statement, a CV and a minimum of four reference letters. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed by a panel of judges.
“We can assume that actually the best of the best will undertake the effort because it’s a very time demanding application,” said Dr Avenarius.
The UAE award, which is funded by the Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, carries an annual value of about Dh281,000 and covers the student’s tuition and living expenses while he or she pursues a two to three year graduate degree at the University of Oxford. Two winners from the UAE are selected annually.
To date, two Rhodes Scholars have come from Khalifa University and eight of the 10 UAE Rhodes Scholars have graduated from NYU Abu Dhabi.
NYUAD has also produced one USA Rhodes scholar and one Canada Rhodes scholar, since international applicants have the option of applying to the awarding body of their home countries. (The university may have additional Rhodes Scholars within the next two weeks when more international winners are declared.)
“Even though we have such a small student body and a small number of alumni, we still had 10 Rhodes Scholars in five years,” said Doug Cutchins, NYUAD’s director of global awards. “If you think about it on a per capita basis, there is no other school that has produced per student as many Rhodes Scholars as we have.”
Ms Fadil, who was named one of the two UAE Rhodes Scholars this week, said she expects her experience at Oxford to be an “extension” of the learning environment fostered at NYUAD.
“I think these awards definitely show that NYUAD is meeting the challenge that it has set for itself to produce thinkers, to produce people who are knowledgeable in various fields, similar to how the ideal Rhodes candidate is described, it’s someone that is well-rounded with a bump,” said Ms Fadil, who plans on completing a master’s degree in a maths-related subject and another in global health. “And I think that’s the type of student that NYUAD produces. All of these awards speak to that achievement.”
Ms Al Memari said the UAE Rhodes Scholarships programme gives students from the UAE an opportunity to “show that we can also be competing in global universities.”
“The Rhodes Scholarships is a global and one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world,” said Ms Al Memari, 21, who intends on studying public policy with a specialisation in education. “It shows that Emiratis are capable of being part of that and not only are they capable but there are also universities in the UAE that are making students capable of competing in these global standards.”