On 11 December the CSC held its virtual Welcome Event for new Commonwealth Scholars who began their master’s courses this term.

The Welcome Event was hosted by Richard Middleton, Chair of the CSC, and featured guest speakers Professor Rita Akosua Dickson, Dr Dominique Thompson and Dr Joanna Newman as well as a special address from the Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon.

Greetings to new Scholars

In his opening talk, Richard Middleton celebrated the achievements of the new Commonwealth Scholars and commended their efforts in settling into university life despite the ongoing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Richard highlighted that universities and the CSC were here to support Scholars and spoke about the different ways Scholars could stay connected with one another through the CSC’s Regional Networks, Knowledge Hubs, and development training and engagement activities.

Finally, Richard introduced the CSC Programme Officers who offered their warm welcome to Scholars and talked about the vital work they do in supporting CSC programmes across the whole of the UK.

Ministerial welcome from Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon

Lord Ahmad expressed his congratulations and pride at the achievement of new Scholars who had joined the illustrious Commonwealth Scholarship community, highlighting the successes of many Commonwealth alumni in different professional, government and parliamentary roles.

Lord Ahmad also emphasised the shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law that unite Commonwealth countries and enable them to tackle the global challenges that the world faces today. As a ‘vast and vibrant family’, Commonwealth Scholars play an integral role in the future of the Commonwealth and Lord Ahmad hoped that through the opportunities and networks Scholars would gain whilst in the UK, they would be able to achieve development impact in their home countries as part of the wider Commonwealth family.

Innovation and adaptation in higher education

The keynote address at the Welcome Event was delivered by Professor Rita Akosua Dickson, Vice-Chancellor of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana and former Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship recipient.

Professor Dickson paid tribute to the CSC and the resilience of Commonwealth Scholars during recent difficult times. As the world has changed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, so too, Professor Dickson noted, must higher education institutions by adapting and innovating through virtual teaching and learning.

Professor Dickson expressed optimism at the way that many institutions across the world, including KNUST, had risen to the challenge of supporting students and assisting in the Covid-19 recovery in diverse and innovative ways. Through e-pedagogy training and blended learning, Professor Dickson observed that higher education institutions were working hard to meet the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic imposed on universities. At the same time, Professor Dickson conceded that many challenges remained and would involve significant mental toughness on the part of staff and students alike.

Professor Dickson concluded her talk with some words of advice for new Scholars, recalling experiences from her own scholarship of regularly talking about the weather and rushing about on the Tube even when there was no hurry. Professor added her congratulations to Scholars and wished them every success during their scholarship.

Engaging with the CSC development themes

Following Professor Dickson’s address, Scholars had the opportunity to meet those studying under the same CSC development themes as them and engage in discussion on a relevant topic during breakout sessions. The breakout sessions were expertly chaired by CSC Commissioners and staff as well as continuing Scholars and our new Regional Network Coordinators.

Staying well in an uncertain world: skills for life

The penultimate talk at the Welcome Event was given by Dr Dominique Thompson, General Practice (GP) Doctor, author and mental health expert.

Dr Thompson’s talk focused on the what, why and how of mental health, and provided a comprehensive overview of the ways in which academic life can affect Scholars’ mental health as well as some excellent tips and resources for how to manage their wellbeing effectively.

Drawing on her own experiences as a university GP, Dr Thompson highlighted the common challenges that Scholars might experience, such fear of failure and imposter syndrome, and practical methods for coping with them by , for example, establishing a good routine and deriving a sense of purpose from different occupations.

We hope that Dr Thompson’s talk at the Welcome Event provided useful guidance for our new Scholars and we look forward providing more activities and events to support Scholars’ mental health and wellbeing throughout this academic year.

Congratulating Scholars on their scholarship

The event concluded with a talk by Dr Joanna Newman who welcomed all new Scholars and reiterated the value of higher education and the opportunities and connections that it afforded Scholars.

The CSC would like to thank all the speakers and discussion chairs who contributed to the Welcome Event and to guests from the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), CSC, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and British Council who joined to support the event. The CSC would also like to thank all Scholars who attended the event and made it such a successful occasion.