A Venture in Nation Building - The Women's Education Partnership's University Scholarship Project
After over 20 years of war between the North and the South, promotion of female leadership through education is critically important to creation of a culture of peace in Sudan and South Sudan, and to the restoration of hope in a more stable future. University scholarships were The Women's Education Partnership's first project and today are our most expensive work. Since the project began in 1996, The Women's Education Partnership’s support for women at university has been a major encouragement to hundreds of marginalized and impoverished Sudanese women from minority communities.
Originally reserved for women from the Nuba Mountains, The Women's Education Partnership scholarships were made available to non-Nuba Sudanese women in 2002. By late 2006 the project had produced 90 university graduates. During the 2006-7 academic year The Women's Education Partnership is sponsoring over 240 scholars, the majority of them at Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman (which has a five year course of study) but with The Women's Education Partnership scholars also enrolled in all 12 Khartoum area universities.
The number of women from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds attending institutions of higher education in Sudan has historically been very low. The Women's Education Partnership scholarship project has not only enabled more marginalized women to attend university but has motivated many more to try. The Women's Education Partnership is now receiving at least 120 applicants each year of whom we are able to accept only about 40. We hope to keep this much needed project growing and have been able, meanwhile, to raise our scholarship acceptance standards.
At the beginning, knowing the conditions from which applicants come, we sometimes took scholars with a less than 60 percent grade average. However, as The Women's Education Partnership has become more widely known, we have gradually been able to raise our acceptance standards. In the 2007-8 academic year we hope to accept only applicants with a grade of 70 or higher, thus insuring fewer failures and more graduates. A local Sudanese committee makes the selection which is then approved by The Women's Education Partnership Trustees in London on the basis of available funding.
Shortly after the inception of the University Scholarships Project, WEP opened a women’s hostel near Ahfad University to meet the need of scholars living in squatter settlements. The hostel provides living circumstances (such as electric lighting) conducive to study and allows scholars to avoid lengthy and expensive daily travel to and from the settlements. There are 36 hostel residents this year and we are hoping to open a second hostel.
In 2002 when our first scholars graduated from Ahfad University, The Women's Education Partnership set up a Graduates Association to serve as a contact and networking resource. And in 2003 we began a project to help our university graduates return to the Nuba Mountains as teachers, NGO workers and government employees. To date nearly 50 sponsored graduates – as well as many others – have returned.
Observing that many of the students at the Girls Secondary School in Kadugli (the only female secondary institution in the Nuba Mountains) were hungry and anaemic, in 2003 The Women's Education Partnership began providing one meal a day to some 150 girls from rural areas. Among these young women are the Nuba university graduates, mothers and leaders of tomorrow.
The Women's Education Partnership is grateful for support from the British Department for International Development which allowed us to increase the number of The Women's Education Partnership university scholars from 100 in 2002 to more than 240 in 2006. We are also grateful to the Gordon College Memorial Trust for ongoing funding which covers the cost of 15 – 20 scholars each year. The Mohamed Ibrahim Trust has also pledged to provide sustained funding beginning in this academic year. However, as local costs continue to rise and as this project grows (There has not been a year in which we had fewer scholars than the previous year), we are in constant need of further funding.
Following the signing of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 the pace of change in Sudan has increased enormously. Moreover, the cost of living and all administrative costs have risen steeply, particularly in Khartoum. Scholarship costs have also gone up although they remain low by European standards. The typical Ahfad scholarship now costs £640 per year as opposed to £400 in 2002.