Dr John Kirkland, Executive Secretary of the CSC, reports on a seminar held on 11 October 2010 in Barbados.

A more Commonwealth-wide approach, more recognition of the needs of small countries and confirmation of the huge networking advantages that scholarships bring to host, as well as home countries.

These were three of the conclusions of a high-level seminar on ‘Commonwealth Scholarships – Past, Present and Future’, staged at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Barbados on 11 October 2010. Later, delegates were invited to a reception hosted by the British High Commissioner, HE Paul Brummell.

The seminar, part of a Commonwealth-wide consultation on the future development of the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, provided clear proof of the diversity offered by the awards. Amongst the 20 or so attendees were Professor Woodville Marshall – one of the first cohort of Commonwealth scholars in 1960 and arguably the first Scholar ever to be awarded a PhD under the scheme in 1962 – and Prisca Regis-Andrew, a nurse who had undertaken a three-month Commonwealth Professional Fellowship – one of the few international training opportunities available to nurses in the region – 45 years later.

Woodville described the transformative effect of his award on a distinguished career which later led him to become Pro-Vice Chancellor of the UWI. Prisca explained how her Professional Fellowship had transformed her thinking about the relationship between diabetes and mental health, an experience now being used to shape provision in her native St Lucia.

Those attending the seminar fully justified the British High Commissioner’s comment that the 140 Commonwealth Scholars from Barbados to the UK since 1960 represented a roll call of ‘leadership and achievement’. Alumni delegates included Sir Hilary Beckles, Principal of the UWI Cave Hill campus, and former Heads of the Civil Service George Reid and Sir Stephen Emtage. The event had largely been inspired by Carlston Boucher, another alumnus and formerly Barbados’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

All had benefited strongly from the scholarships – but felt that the benefits were not confined to the individual recipients or their countries. Contact with the UK and its institutions had, for most, continued throughout their lives. Many had returned to undertake career training there, collaborated with UK institutions, or ensured that the next generation of their families studied in the UK – all adding to a unique network developed by Commonwealth Scholarships.

Not surprisingly, all felt that countries such as Barbados should continue to benefit. The needs of small island states remain, even as they become more prosperous, because it will never be possible to have the full range of training and facilities available in larger countries.

There were strong reasons, too, why the UK link should be maintained. In many subject areas, materials necessary for study are located in the UK – whether they should be or not! The area of Caribbean history was cited as a powerful example.

But there was also recognition that more countries, such as Barbados, should be involved in providing awards. Examples such as that of UWI Professor Jane Bryce, who undertook her Commonwealth Scholarship in Nigeria, confirmed the benefit of ensuring that the CSFP continues to develop as a Commonwealth-wide entity.

The recent contribution of the Barbados government to the CSFP 50th anniversary endowment fund – confirmed to delegates by Curtis Pilgrim, Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development – was a welcome sign of such commitment.

Finally, it was recognised that the Commonwealth itself has been another beneficiary of the scheme. Tara Innes, a Lecturer at UWI, was one of several participants to epitomise the Commonwealth spirit – she studied in Australia and Canada, as well as being one of the first Commonwealth Split-site Scholars in the UK. More Commonwealth collaboration, leadership, and joint initiatives – such as the CSFP endowment fund – were seen as ways to reinforce this distinctive nature.