By Yasmin Jayesimi
Three years ago, in time for the Ghana independence day, SOAS’s NigeriaGhana WestAfrica Society held a panel discussion event titled ‘Privileged To Suffer’, an event which questioned if SOAS, the flagship of African (and Oriental) studies in the UK, could have difficulties in obtaining scholarships funded by African donors; or promoting a wide range of Africa-related subjects; and retaining scholars who are expert on African studies/languages (such as Hausa); then what hope is there for the future of Africa Studies in the UK?
Ultimately what hope is there for the development of the continent itself? Three years later, this question still goes unanswered, as SOAS faces more funding crises and cutbacks not only on scholarships but also on academic studies and departments.
Renowned as a diverse place of study, one of the top ten universities for international students and the brightest minds from more than 133 different countries, SOAS has been the alma mater for some prominent African public figures such as Samia Nkrumah, Toyin Saraki and African leaders the likes of John Atta Milles or Luisa Diogo. However, with 56% of students coming from outside of the UK, SOAS is home to more self-funded international students who out numbers students on scholarship at SOAS.
According to a report carried out in 2012, 48% of all SOAS students are from a Black and Minority Ethnicity (BME) background and for these students there are but five scholarships offered to them (BME/African students). One of these scholarships is the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship, which is to support scholarships for students from developing Commonwealth countries who would not otherwise be able to study in the UK. Another of these scholarships is the GDAI – PhD scholarship the Mo Ibrahim Foundation offers to African nationals as part of the Governance for Development in Africa Initiative.
In comparison to its Asian counterpart, SOAS’s Africa Department’s range of scholarships on offer to BME students are so few and far between, that it is any wonder if the department still exists at all.
Yasmin is President of SOAS’s Nigeria, Ghana and West Africa Society: