The first cohort of Lisa Maskell fellows consisting of five doctoral students graduated with their PhD degrees on Thursday, 22 March. The Lisa Maskell fellowships are awarded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation in Germany.
The fellowship was initiated in 2014 to coincide with Lisa Maskell's 100th birthday. The Gerda Henkel Foundation was founded by Lisa Maskell. To mark her 100 birthday, the Foundation introduced the scholarship programme to support young humanities scholars from Africa and South East Asia. The fellowship is the largest international support programme for doctoral students in the history of the Foundation.
The fellowship programme is coordinated in Africa on behalf of the Gerda Henkel Foundation by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Stellenbosch University and the Graduate School of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Doctoral candidates are granted a triennial PhD scholarship grant at one of these Graduate Schools, with candidates from all Sub-Saharan states eligible to apply. Both universities form part of the Partnership for Africa's Next Generation of Academics (PANGeA), a collaborative network of leading African universities developing research capacity and confidence in bringing African expertise to Africa's challenges. The universities involved in the PANGeA network are the University of Botswana, the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, the University of Ghana, Makerere University, the University of Malawi, the University of Nairobi in Kenya, Stellenbosch University, and the University of Yaoundé I in Cameroon.
“We are very proud of our first fellows who have worked extremely hard to earn their degrees. They did so in less time than many of our European PhD scholars – another clear indication that the graduate school in Stellenbosch is a well-organised and highly effective institute for higher education in Africa. We hope that our sponsorship for Stellenbosch University and for the Graduate School at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, can in the long run make a modest contribution to foster excellent academic achievements for Africans in Africa. And I am convinced that some of these bright young women and men will one day reach leadership positions – be it in academia, government, business or NGOs – and will thus contribute to play an important role for the future development of society in their home countries and beyond," said Dr Michael Hanssler, the Chair of the Executive Board of the Foundation.
Dr Cindy Steenekamp, the Chair of the Graduate School Board, said that the partnership with Gerda Henkel has helped the Graduate School to reach many of its goals over the last five years.
“It has been amazing for us to partner with donors who share in our vision of higher education in Africa. Many projects fail because of the incompatibility between a donor's expectations and the reality of the project they are supporting. The Gerda Henkel Foundation shares our vision and supports our academic project without being prescriptive or dictating operations. They acknowledge the expertise within and considerable success of the Graduate School, respect the partnerships we have developed with the rest of Africa and they support and encourage those endeavours," said Steenekamp.
Doctoral scholarships such as the three-year full-time scholarship provided by the Graduate School are very expensive.
“Donors make a substantial financial investment into an intellectual resource which only starts to pay dividends after three years. To work with a Foundation that has the patience to allow their investment to grow and mature over time so that we may make a meaningful contribution to the arts, humanities and social sciences on the African continent is essential for our continued success," added Steenekamp.
The support the Graduate School has received from the Foundation has also made it possible for the school to gain international exposure and has opened up additional avenues of sponsorships.
“Because we have secured a long term financial commitment from a philanthropic organisation with the calibre of the Gerda Henkel Foundation, other donors are also willing to come on board and partner with us. Without the foundation's continued support, many of these opportunities would not have been possible."
The students that benefitted from the fellowships include Dr Sibongile Mpofu, who graduated in December 2017, and Drs Hezron Kangalawe, Serah Kasembeli, Neema Laizer and Herbert Ndomba, all of whom were awarded their doctoral degrees at yesterday's graduation ceremony.
The fellowship, said many of the graduates, enabled them to pursue PhD studies which would not have been an option for them because of financial constraints.
“As a parent, I would not have managed to forego my salary, as I needed to take care of my children. So, the scholarship, while it did not meet all the needs, made a difference to alleviate the financial constraints," said Dr Sibongile Mpofu from the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe.
Adds Kangalawe of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania: “Financially, this fellowship has helped me in many ways, first by paying the tuition fee which I could not raise as an individual, or through my university, Dar es Salaam. Sometimes I used to save part of my bursary for travel expenses at the end of the year to visit Dar es Salaam. Without this fellowship, at any rate, obtaining my PhD degree could take much longer."
“Without this fellowship, I would not have got the opportunity to pursue my PhD degree
at the Graduate School of Stellenbosch University. This fellowship covered important
parts of my doctoral training, like fees and stipends and the remaining aspects of air tickets and research funds I could secure through my employer," said Ndomba also from the University of Dar es Salaam.
Some students also chose to study at Stellenbosch University based on the excellent record of the Graduate School and the efficient supervision of its academic staff.
“Stellenbosch University is a reputable and highly rated institution, and the availability of scholarships contributed to the decision to apply there. In addition, I also researched the expertise available in my field, and discovered that SU was the best choice for me. I got to be mentored by some of the best experts in my field and got exposed to research activities through seminars – this helped me succeed in my studies," said Mpofu.
But what's certain for all of these fellows, is that the Lisa Maskell fellowship has opened many more doors for them now that they have completed their doctorates.
“The fellowship has significantly changed my life. For three years of my doctoral training I have benefited a lot through various postgraduate training, workshops, seminars and field research and report writing. Therefore, through these training opportunities I have become a young African professional scholar, researcher and academic. Today I am the first PhD holder at Ndongosi village in Ruvuma Region in Southern Tanzania, the village which was formed in the early 1960s just after the independence of Tanzania, and a lecturer of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania," said Ndomba.
“I wish to ask and encourage our donors to continue supporting this programme because by doing so they are empowering a young African generation not just in fighting against ignorance, poverty and diseases in Africa but they are supporting the achievement of the global Sustainable Development Goals," he added.