1 November 2017 International
1 November 2017 International
UK universities have invested significantly in domestic widening participation initiatives. Significant progress has been made, but many inequalities in access still regrettably persist. Whilst widening participation traditionally focusses on a variety of domestic demographics according to need, we should not forget that many other marginalised people around the world also have immediate needs. One organisation supporting this goal, Ashinaga, explain their work and the importance of a global perspecitve in widening participation.
At Ashinaga, we have been widening participation in education since the 1960s. We began in Japan, providing scholarships and interest-free loans for orphaned students to stay in primary and secondary education, or fulfil their dreams of completing high school or university. Since 1975 we have also provided access to international education for orphaned students wanting to study at universities abroad.
In 2014, we began recruiting for international education outside Japan, launching the prestigious Ashinaga Africa Initiative (AAI). This enables orphaned youth from African countries to study at universities around the world. In 2016 we had 36 students in the AAI; today, we have 159 students and 79 graduates, recruited from 49 African countries. AAI Scholars study in Japan, the UK, France, Brazil, and the USA, and develop their skills in our comprehensive leadership programme.
Crucially, AAI Scholars then return to the African continent to effect change. Like in domestic initiatives, universities are enriched by these students: universities widen participation to their courses and benefit directly from brilliant students. The students benefit from an excellent education and international network, and gain skills they can take home.
Our work in the UK is achieved through our close partnerships with universities. There are currently 25 AAI Scholars, from all over Africa, studying at UK universities. Many AAI Scholars in the UK study at either the University of Warick or the University of York, where tuition fees have been generously waived by the universities, and Ashinaga fund living and accommodation costs. We also have agreements with other universities in England and Scotland which provide significant discounts on tuition – we just can’t do this alone.
Our university partners benefit from gaining academically-brilliant, socially-driven, international students. Every Ashinaga Scholar in the UK has progressed to the next academic year. UK graduates already excelling in the world: from teaching at a medical university in Tanzania, to working in an international engineering firm improving infrastructure in South Africa, to securing postgraduate scholarships, to working for their national government.
Through these initiatives, our university partners are able to increase the number of international students from severely underrepresented countries in UK universities, such as the Central African Republic, Namibia, Benin, to name only three. This also directly impacts on universities’ ability to widen participation, especially as all Ashinaga Scholars also come from low-income and orphaned backgrounds.
On our partnership, University of York Vice-Chancellor, Professor Charlie Jeffery said: “We know from experience that young people who may have suffered personal tragedy and other hardships early in life, often struggle to find their way into higher education, despite having the academic ability to study and learn to the highest level. If we do not find ways to support them, some of our best and brightest minds, who will contribute great things to solving some of our biggest global challenges, will be missed. We are excited to be working with the Ashinaga Association in the UK in identifying the next generation of leaders for Africa and the rest of the world.”
Professor Chris Ennew, Provost of the University of Warwick, said “Society progresses when we allow our best minds to learn, to flourish, and to develop new ideas – however, there exist barriers to higher education for less advantaged people around the world. Thanks to our existing scholarships and new partnership with Ashinaga UK, these excellent students will be able to bring their existing knowledge and skills to Warwick, where they will be equipped with the innovative education, interdisciplinary research, and international links necessary to lead development across sub-Saharan Africa.”
Ashinaga currently recruits across 49 sub-Saharan African countries. Through our networks, we work with other NGOs and government organisations in each country to advertise and assist with the selection process, which includes interviews conducted online.
Currently, total UK students from the African continent come predominantly from just one country. In 2020-1, Nigeria became the third largest origin of international students in the UK, growing by 63% from the previous year (21,305 students in the UK). However, Nigeria is still far behind India (84,555 students), itself far behind China (143,820). And Nigeria is far ahead of any other African country: the next closest is Egypt (3,260 students), Ghana (2,795), and Kenya (2,640). 30 African countries have fewer than 100 students in the UK, and seven have fewer than 10.
But there is so much more potential in Africa. Nigeria is a large country, and is justifiably counted as a growth region, but it only represents 17% of the continent’s population; 17% of its ingenuity and talent. There are 53 other countries in Africa. The continent is young, too. 60% of the people living there are under the age of 25, and by 2030, it is predicted that 42% of the world’s youth will come from African countries. Our universities clearly need to understand Africa and support its development.
By partnering with Ashinaga, UK universities have been able to widen participation from beyond the UK, but also beyond those overseas countries selected as government strategic priorities. As a result, new links between UK and African countries are being forged, and skills acquired at UK universities are being fed back to developing communities across the world. Our work demonstrates that it is now possible to widen participation by recruiting across Africa, and we believe the same approach can be adopted in other regions of the world as well.
Our partnership approach focuses on finding individuals rather than targeting specific growth regions. These students are, first and foremost, brilliant; like our home widening participation students, they enrich our institutions and are an invaluable part of our communities. It is time to redefine widening participation as a global endeavour.