Press Release: Commonwealth Master’s Scholarship Falls Short

Commonwealth Master’s Scholarship Falls Short in Facilitating Access to Leading UK Universities

In a revelation that raises concerns, the esteemed Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) is grappling with substantial challenges in realising its mission to empower students from Commonwealth nations to access top-tier UK universities. This information surfaced following a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests filed by Vareesh Pratap, the Postgraduate President of Cambridge SU.

Despite its stature, the CSFP, an annual provider of over 700 scholarships and fellowships for postgraduate study and professional development to Commonwealth citizens each year, falls short of the expectations revealed by the FOI [1]. The stark reality emerges – not a single Commonwealth citizen from eligible nations has successfully gained admission to the University of Cambridge through the Commonwealth Master’s Scholarship in the current academic year 2023/24. It is important to note that there were 16 students on the said scholarship from India alone, just one among the eligible developing and underdeveloped countries, during the academic year 2021/22, but not even a single student in the year 2023/24 from 25 countries combined. Oxford University fares almost no better than Cambridge University this year, with a lone successful candidate for the academic year 2023/24.

The CSC made an allocation of 418 scholarships to help talented and motivated commonwealth citizens from about 25 developing and underdeveloped former British colonies nations to gain knowledge and skills required for sustainable development, aimed at those who could not otherwise afford to study in the UK. The nominating agencies from these countries send the nominations for 388 qualifying candidates Commonwealth Masters Scholarship towards the same. However, only 289 scholarships were awarded in total, commonwealth master’s scholarship and commonwealth shared scholarships combined, comprising 97 Commonwealth Master’s Scholarships and 192 Commonwealth Shared Scholarships, with only 14 out of 25 low- and middle-income countries benefiting from the latter. [2,5].

The results expose a significant decline in both assured and granted awards, indicating that commitments made by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, as relayed by the nominating agencies in many countries including Kenya, have unfortunately not been fulfilled. Despite assurances of 19 Master's scholarships respectively, they received only 5, representing just a quarter of the pledged numbers. [2,3,4]. Similarly, from India, only 10 students out of 39 nominated candidates could attend any UK university on this scholarship.

This eye-opening revelation uncover the insurmountable barriers faced by marginalised Commonwealth citizens in accessing top-tier institutions. Commonwealth Master’s scholarship is one among the few options wherein ‘talented and motivated’ students are permitted to bring their spouse under UK government’s new visa rules. Vareesh Pratap, joined by Maroof Rafique, BME Officer at Cambridge SU, looks forward to lobbying the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, University, and other relevant bodies. Rafique, who has recently been reelected for the same role for the next academic year, is committed to ensuring an unimpeded path for individuals, from countries historically exploited by British colonialism, to reach Cambridge University.

Both officers assert the unwavering commitment of Cambridge SU to equal opportunities in education by promoting access to the University of Cambridge. They feel that most institutes that are awarding offer letters on a rolling basis or giving an option to defer course enrolment by a year, which is not a case at Cambridge University, have an advantage in drawing talent for the said scholarship. 

On the potential solutions, Vareesh shared that permitting PG (Taught) students to enrol in the next viable term, an opportunity readily available to PG (Research) and PhD students, can significantly help these students. Alternatively, awarding early offers like those given in the case of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship for US citizens can also be a promising option. They are deeply concerned that accessibility-related concerns may remain the same for the academic year 2024/25, as there has been no material change for the better in the last year. They felt it to be ideal if the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, that aims to confirm awards by 31 July like in the Chevening Scholarship award, can put the application deadline for stage 2 i.e. application submission with the nominating agencies somewhere in late February to early March like the Chevening scholarship’s stage 2. It will give the applicants ample time to submit their scholarship application. Given the scenario, both urgently call for intervention from the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and other appropriate authorities to address this issue (significant disparity and) by removing policy roadblocks to help Commonwealth citizens access top-tier institutes through this prestigious scholarship award. This scholarship is now one of the few schemes that permit international students to come to UK universities on taught courses along with their family members.



[2]:  CSC Masters and Shared Scholars 2022 & 2023.xls



[5]: 2023 and 2022 Master's allocations and nominations.xlsx 



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