An Emirati academic has been named the first recipient of a prestigious new scholarship from the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation.
Rana Al Mutawa recently won the inaugural University of Oxford-Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Graduate Scholarship to pursue a doctorate in Middle Eastern studies, with a focus on Emirati culture, at the elite university starting this academic year.
The scholarship, jointly funded by the foundation and Oxford, covers tuition and living expenses for one graduate student admitted to Oxford who is a citizen of an Arab League member state.
For Ms Al Mutawa, who was born and raised in Dubai, being named the award’s first winner came as a pleasant surprise.
“I was really shocked,” she said. “It was the first year they had the scholarship, so I had never heard of it and I just got this email and I was really happy because I’m from Dubai and I really admire Sheikh Mohammed so having his name and also Oxford on the scholarship — my scholarship — made me really happy.”
The scholarship is one of the many of the foundation’s initiatives, which was founded in 2007 with a mission to promote and enhance knowledge and personal development, said Ahlam Al Hosani, the foundation’s senior officer of human capital.
“We’re trying to improve education, knowledge and development for all of humanity,” said Ms Al Hosani. “Some of our activities are financing or encouraging basic education for thousands of people, and others are for the elite scholars. We’re translating Sheikh Mohammed’s vision of knowledge and development into practical things.”
Ms Al Mutawa was among 60 candidates considered for the award for the current academic year. The scholarship is administered by Oxford and applications received before the end of January will be considered for the following academic year.
Ms Al Hosani said one student will be awarded the scholarship annually for the first five years and, as the fund grows, more scholarships will be made available. The scholarship funds the full term of each student’s programme.
As its first winner, Ms Al Mutawa has set the bar high for future candidates. The 28-year-old has completed two master degrees: one in international affairs from Columbia University and another in public policy from the University of Tokyo. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the American University in Dubai. She most recently taught Emirati studies as an adjunct instructor at Zayed University in Dubai. It’s a subject she hopes to investigate further as part of her doctoral studies to help address misconceptions about her culture and the GCC at large.
“(There has been) a lot of work about the region that has been written from outsiders and a lot of their work is very flawed and biased,” said Ms Al Mutawa. “There is a bit of work from people from the inside, but I have also been disappointed with that work because it’s not really very analytical.”
Ms Al Mutawa said the region presents many opportunities for new scholarship.
“There is so much that hasn’t been studied, for example, people think of the Gulf citizens as monolithic, like we are only one culture and homogenous and so on, but actually, that is not true,” said Ms Al Mutawa. “The Gulf has been always cosmopolitan. It’s not just a new thing. The Gulf states had ports and they used to trade with India and East Africa and so on and these cultures have influenced our culture. There is a lot of interesting research that can be done in that field.”
Ms Al Mutawa, who is the middle adult child in a family of five sisters, said she was honoured to be an Oxford-MBRKF scholar as an Arab and as an Emirati.
“I just feel like it’s very special to be recognised, for me, specifically, as an Emirati citizen from my own country — it has Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s name and so on,” she said. “If I wasn’t Emirati, I think this would be really special, that there is something for all Arabs. I think that also just the fact that it is for all Arab students, it’s something that can bring good will in the region.”