ABU DHABI // A scholarship programme that each year gives two of the UAE’s best and brightest students the chance to study at Oxford has been granted permanent funding.
The Rhodes Scholarship for the University of Oxford will now be supported by a permanent endowment from the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, allowing students to pursue their postgraduate studies in England. Previously, funding depended on individual donors.
So far, eight students from the UAE have been awarded a place, among them five Emiratis, following in the footsteps of the likes of former US president Bill Clinton, former prime minister of Australia Tony Abbott, and the astronomer Edwin Hubble.
Established in 1902 by British businessman Cecil Rhodes, the scholarship pays all expenses for up to three years – about Dh774,000 – at the university.
“We started with temporary funding because we wanted to see if the UAE was the kind of place we could consistently get scholars that met our standards,” said Charles Conn, chief executive of the Rhodes Trust and warden of Rhodes House.
“We had some wonderful people like Shamma Al Mazrui [now Minister of State for Youth Affairs] and then set up permanent funding which has come from the Foundation.”
The intention was to fund one student each year but with consistently high-quality applications, Mr Conn said it was clear there was room for two.
Dubai Abulhoul, a student at New York University in Abu Dhabi, will join the programme next year.
“Having a permanent Rhodes Scholarship in the UAE will encourage more people to apply, and will give future candidates more time to prepare in advance for the application during their earlier undergraduate years.”
Fewer than 1 per cent of applicants make it as scholars, who are chosen on intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service.
Mr Conn said priority would be given to Emirati scholars.
“We’d like to have at least one Emirati each time but we wouldn’t rule out non-Emirati applicants,” he said.
Prof Tod Laursen, president of Khalifa University, which recently announced its second successful Rhodes Scholar who will start next year, said the permanent scholarship highlighted the UAE’s progress in developing higher education.
“It’s great news that the UAE is being recognised on an international level as a key nurturer of young talent, and here at Khalifa University we are proud that we have been able to contribute to this by producing two Rhodes Scholar graduates in the last year.”
Doug Cutchins, director of global awards at NYUAD, which has put forward 6 of the 8 winning UAE scholars to date, agreed.
“This endowment is a symbol that Oxford University knows that students educated in the UAE can compete at a global level with the best in the world. It is also a sign of the commitment of the UAE to providing a world-class education to its people and those who choose to pursue their education here.
“It is my hope that the establishment of the UAE Rhodes Scholarship inspires more people to come to the UAE from around the world to take advantage of the opportunities here, and similarly inspires even more Emiratis to pursue their education here at home.”
He said there was “no undergraduate scholarship or award in the world that is more life-changing or prestigious than the Rhodes Scholarship”.
“It will open doors that students do not even know exist yet.”
Mr Conn said the next step was to broaden the UAE’s pool of scholars, as the successful candidates have so far come from NYUAD and Khalifa University.
“We’re sure there are other incredibly talented people at other institutions as well. We’d like broader awareness of the scholarship, especially now we’re permanently funded.”