The Welcome Event for Scholars is the largest event in the CSC calendar, and is a special opportunity for all Commonwealth Scholars studying in the UK to come together at the beginning of their exciting journeys.

This year’s Welcome Event was held on Friday 8 November at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London. Over 400 PhD and Master’s Scholars from 26 countries, studying at universities across the UK, attended the event where they shared their dreams, aspirations and hopes for the future.

The annual event has several key objectives which include: to recognise and celebrate the different identities and achievements of Commonwealth Scholars; to build a community of Scholars in the UK and encourage participation throughout their scholarship and as alumni; and to provide an opportunity for Scholars and the CSC to engage with partner organisations.

The wide range of cultures and identities in attendance was on full display on the day, with a great deal of interaction between the new Commonwealth Scholars before the start of the programme. This overspilled to the CSC twitter account @commschols where our Commonwealth Scholars expressed their excitement and showcased their celebration of the day for everyone to see.

A warm welcome to all the Scholars

The Welcome Event opened with a speech from Richard Middleton, Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK. He congratulated all the Scholars for their commitment “to making profound change in [their] country and region”. Richard Middleton’s speech also shone a light on the different ways in which the CSC is committed to supporting and harnessing Scholars’ talents. He thanked the Regional Network Coordinators for taking on the mantle of ensuring Scholars across all regions in the UK stay connected and engaged, with each other and the CSC, through various events. He also thanked both Scholars and alumni who are Knowledge Hub Coordinators, for their efforts towards promoting the exchange of ideas.

The morning keynote address was delivered by Dr Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions. An international policy expert and researcher on environment, climate and island issues, but most importantly, a Commonwealth alumnus. It was in this capacity that Dr Payet was able to share his own journey as a Commonwealth Scholar and beyond, in an inspiring and rousing speech.

Discussing global issues

After the morning’s energising speeches, the Scholars made their way to one of five topical panel discussions drawing from a development theme. As new Commonwealth Scholars they would already have been familiar with the themes given that all Scholarships and Fellowships are offered under six development themes including Science and Technology for Development and Strengthening Health Systems and Capacity.

The Scholars were guided through to these discussions by an array of panel speakers comprising of academic experts from various disciplines, as well as CSC Commissioners who chaired the discussions. The panels created an opportunity for lively discussion and debate, giving Scholars the chance to share their own opinions and understanding of the development themes.

Probing questions asked in the panel discussions included, “Will improvements in technology always lead to an increase in productive work and economic growth?” and “Should governments fund mental health initiatives in their countries to the same extent as they fund physical health?”. In addition to listening to the professional expertise offered by the panel speakers, Scholars were given an opportunity to pose their own questions to the speakers.

After the thought-provoking discussions, Scholars took a break to have lunch and network. There was also an exhibition where Scholars could hear from a selection of Commonwealth organisations including the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Council for Education in the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Telecommunication Organisation, not to mention other organisations such as UK Council for International Student Affairs, Cumberland Lodge the British Council and Diversity Travel.

What will your contribution be?

After lunch, the Scholars broke out in their home country groups for their next activity, discussing how best to maximise their scholarship experience in the UK and how best to apply the skills and knowledge they will gain following their return to their home countries. Specifically, Scholars identified the development aspects of their particular research projects and discussed ways in which they would be able to tackle the sustainable development challenges facing their home country/region. In addition, they also thought about the types of activities they could undertake, the distinct networks that they could cultivate whilst in the UK and the most effective means to measure their success and impact as alumni.

Final words and farewell

The Welcome Event at the QEII Centre ended with speeches from four inspiring and aspirational women. Professor Sara Mole, Provost’s Envoy for Gender Equality at University College London, delivered the afternoon keynote address. In her speech, Professor Sara Mole expressed the importance of encouraging the achievements of women and girls in STEM, and the various measures used by UK universities to examine progress towards gender equality.

This was followed by remarks from Baroness Sugg CBE, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development. Baroness Sugg welcomed the Scholars on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government and expressed the importance of Scholars working towards delivering development impact upon their return to their home countries. Baroness Sugg ended her remarks by encouraging Scholars to “take advantage of [their] time in the UK to build lasting networks for the future”.

Baroness Sugg’s remarks were followed by remarks from Professor Christine Ennew OBE, the Provost of the University of Warwick. Professor Christine Ennew gave a presentation on the significance of the international dimension in higher education and the importance of scholarship schemes in supporting the development of higher education globally.

The afternoon speeches were wrapped up by closing remarks from Dr Joanna Newman MBE, Executive Secretary of the CSC and Secretary-General of the ACU.

Scholars were then directed to the nearby Central Hall Westminster, where a delicious spread of canapés and a drinks reception was awaiting them. The drinks reception was opened by a speech from Philip Parham CMG, the Commonwealth Envoy at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

After the speech, Scholars were encouraged to network amongst themselves, as well as with the many representatives from UK universities and High Commissions in attendance.