Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nelson Mandela scholarships

So the Harper crowd, never ones to miss an opportunity to cash in on the deaths of better human beings, are launching a series of Masters and PhD scholarships for African students.

Candidates will study in Canada in French or English at the master’s degree level or equivalent in the areas of public policy and public administration. They will be required to present their cases for their areas of study and demonstrate that they will contribute to shape Africa’s future through public service, the release said.

Coming from existing funds

There is also cash for Canadian students pursuing master's or PhD-level programs in social sciences and humanities at Canadian universities. Students who want one of the 20 annual Canada Graduate Scholarships to Honour Nelson Mandela will have to do research in one of the following topics:
  • National unity. 
  • Democracy, freedom and human rights.
  • Leadership.
  • Children’s participation in society.  
​Up to 10 master’s scholarships and up to 10 doctoral scholarships will be awarded for the first time in 2015, following the 2014 competition, the release said. Scholarships at the master’s level will provide $17,500 for one year, while those at the doctoral level will provide $35,000 annually for three years.
Several quick problems.

First, public policy and administration are pseudo-disciplines, and national unity, democracy, freedom and human rights [Oxford comma? Are these tied together?], leadership etc are a mishmash of feel-good concepts and topics that are the buzzwords of Canadian L/liberalism (and not really Harper, but again, way to poach!). Childrens participation in society? Worthy topic, but oh my heartstrings it makes us comfy wealthy white Northerners feel like a fuzzy Unicef box. And who on Earth is going to evaluate these applications? The PMO?

There are a number of highly functional African democracies, South Africa and Botswana being very good examples. There are also a number of good African universities and a larger number that could use some serious cash infusion so that their teaching and research capacity can improve and allow their academics to join the intellectual conversation dominated by institutions and researchers based in the global North.

A much better thing to do would be to provide support to African universities so that they may provide robust educations to African students in Africa and thereby improve the overall advanced education infrastructure and civil society in countries that need it. But hey, since we're not into supporting own universities, why the hell would we help those in Africa?

No, the universities who will most benefit from this are those in Canada. Especially since they will likely charge tuition fees to these scholarship recipients. They do this, mercilessly, because they are also strapped for cash. See above.

Moreover, a number of scholarship recipients will apply for residency in Canada following the completion of their degrees or move to other developed nations. This is what happens when you move from a poor to a rich country - you tend to want to stay. Unless the government intends open the can of worms that would be a prohibition on these students from applying for residency here, Africa may not particularly benefit from this noble gesture by our little grand emperor.

Lastly, the awards are equal to SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council) masters and PhD scholarships. Canadian masters degrees are almost all two-year programms meaning that $17 500 for one year leaves a student high and dry for at least one of those years. Universities also often charge tuition meaning that the money left over willl put the student around the poverty line.  What this means is that the children of African elites will get these scholarships because they will be the ones who went to the best schools (often other Euro or North American) and have the wealth to overcome the cost of living deficit imposed by our pathetically insufficient scholarships. Poorer Africans need not apply.

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