Manchester University's new scheme provides a boost for East Africa

On the face of it, it seems strange for a major university to invest time and effort in providing Masters degree education for young people living in some of the poorest communities in the world – for no obvious financial advantage. But an initiative, fully funded by the Manchester University and its alumni, with passionate support from its vice chancellor Professor Alan Gilbert, is doing just that in Uganda, with plans to expand the scheme into Kenya and Bangladesh.

"Though universities are research and educational institutions, you could argue that their most important mission in the 21st century is going to be social engagement," says Gilbert. "Producing graduates who will be responsible global citizens is now more critical than ever. So it's right and proper to invest skills and knowledge and educational opportunities in the most needy parts of the world."

Manchester – along with its alumni association – has invested in a range of "equity and merit" schemes intended to throw an educational lifeline to these disadvantaged but gifted young people. It is one of the few British universities to do so. It is costing £350,000 and it means that 48 young Africans are being supported in the academic year 2008/09 – 35 more students than the previous year. Next year the number is expected to increase still further.

Some of the support is in the form of scholarships that fund students to study in Manchester. Others take part in an e-learning programme that gives Masters students the chance to study from their home country using cutting-edge internet technology. And another programme funds the validation for a BSc in HIV/AIDS delivered by Mildmay International, a Christian AIDS palliative care specialist non-governmental organisation in Uganda.

The university also ensures the scholarships go to the most needy in Uganda by using local charity Kulika to manage the selection process. So far, it seems to have worked: the scholars are from some of the poorest communities on earth.

The writer is media relations officer, Faculty of Humanities, University of Manchester

'We have online access to a lecturer at any time – in real time'

Jane Namaganda, 27, Masters in public health

Jane hopes to complete her Masters in public health by 2011. She came across the scheme when she saw an advert on a notice board at Makerere University where she works as a nurse researcher.

"It offered four scholarships to Ugandans using a remote learning method," she says. "I submitted a 500-word essay on public health and after a few weeks found out I had got it."

The study is hard – but satisfying, she says. Notes, coursework, papers are all available online, and students can download material from the university's library website.

"We have online access to a lecturer at any time – in real time – during working hours and it's fantastic that you can get feedback so quickly. I'm very well looked after.

"The fact that this course is available to Africans like me will bring enormous benefits. But we need more!"

'Education isn't an option for most people'

Badru Bukenya, 27, Masters in international development, specialising in development management

Badru works at Uganda's largest AIDS organisation, TASO, and runs food distribution, education and micro-credit programmes. With HIV/AIDS on the increase in Uganda, his work is more important than ever.

Yet he would never have got an education if it had not been for an accident he suffered as a child. His single mother had decided that she could no longer afford to keep him in school and had arranged for him to begin work at a garage.

At the age of 10, however, he fell off his bike and broke his arm, which meant that manual work was out of the question. So his mother had to think again. Despite financial hardship, she paid for him to stay on in school – and the rest, for Badru, is history.

He grew up in the Rakai district, home of the very first HIV case in Uganda. Badru threw himself into his books in an attempt to escape a life in the slums and in 1997 took his O-levels, achieving his school's only First grade.

"Education is not an option for most people in Uganda," he says "The vast majority are destined for poverty from birth. My escape was down to sheer good fortune. Manchester was great for me. In Africa, having a Masters is critical to finding a decent job and it gives you an edge."

A Masters degree gives you practical skills, as well as the theory to critically evaluate policy, which is what Badru needs at TASO. "I've been lucky and now things are okay for me. But there are many gifted people in my country who have no access to education. Universities are in a unique position to help them."

'My father died when I was 12. My mum sells goods in the street'

Robert Lule, 29, Masters in maintenance engineering and asset management

Despite his young age, Robert's already an assistant commander in charge of 100 or so men and millions of pounds worth of vessels that patrol the waters of Uganda's Lake Victoria, where he's based.

Four boats – bought recently for £1.2m each – are his strongest weapon in the dangerous fight against piracy and smuggling. And now – thanks to his Masters degree – he'll be able to maintain the boats properly and train other officers.

"In 1995 we only had open canoes, but now we have a strong presence on Victoria thanks to these well-maintained boats," he says. "It's a lot safer now. There's more investment in tourism, fishing – and sailing."

Robert is the first person in his family to go to university and grew up in difficult – but typical – circumstances: "My father died when I was 12 and my mum sells goods in the street. It was a hard life."

But his mother managed to scrape together enough savings to send Robert to school, where he excelled, eventually getting a Ugandan undergraduate scholarship to Makerere, Uganda's flagship university in Kampala.

He had no doubts about the need to go home after completing his Masters in Manchester, and believes that, unlike wealthier Africans, the poor are more likely to go back to their communities than to stay in the West after graduation.

"Students from richer backgrounds won't feel the need to go home because they have the resources to live oversees and their families aren't dependent on them," he says. But my family needs me. I had no doubts about going back home."

'We need to avoid a brain drain'

Jonathan Serugunda, 27, MSC in communication engineering

Like other scholars in Uganda, Jonathan has been forced to battle considerable adversity to achieve educational success, losing his father when aged eight.

But unlike his fellow graduates, Jonathan sees his future in academia. After graduating with distinction at the end of 2008, his dream is to lecture at Makerere University.

It's not easy choice: an assistant lecturer in Uganda earns only about £408 a month. "You definitely need a Masters degree if you are to get a job as a lecturer in Uganda," he says.

Makerere can't afford to buy the equipment that's invaluable to study, he says, but the good thing about Manchester is that students have access to state-of-the-art technology. "We need more of these type of scholarships but African governments too must invest in universities. And we need to avoid a brain drain to ensure that the people with much to offer return."

Suggested Topics
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
The will of Helen Beatrix Heelis, better known as Beatrix Potter, was among those to be archived
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: 1st Line IT Support - Surrey - £24,000

£20000 - £24000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support Helpd...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Audit Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Audit Graduate Opportunities ar...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect