16th September 2015 Istanbul, Turkey
A Better Future For Syria: Chevening 2015
You may well have heard of the Chevening Scholarships Programme. Every year, the British government awards them to people we judge to be outstanding established or emerging leaders, to continue their further education. Competition for scholarships is fierce, so fierce I very much doubt I would have got one were I to have applied back in the day.
This year, 37 Syrians have been selected as Chevening Scholars, from among a field of nearly 1000. These scholars now have the opportunity to study for a one-year Master’s degree at any of the UK’s leading universities, across a wide range of fields. We recognise the importance of supporting bright Syrians to continue their further education, despite the ongoing conflict.
The scholarship programme is a key part of our commitment to a better future for Syria, with many Chevening alumni already working to relieve Syrians’ suffering. This year we are sending more Syrians than ever on the Chevening Programme. Per capita of the Syrian population, the Syrian Chevening Programme is larger than all of our others.
This month, the British Embassy in Beirut gave the scholars a warm send-off, together with tips on how to get the most out of their programme. Each of these exceptional people provided my team and I with a timely reminder of those who dare to dream for a better future for Syria. We are proud to support them on their journeys.
With almost 2,000 scholars funded and over 44,000 alumni worldwide, the programme provides a unique opportunity for leaders of the future to build a global network and to establish social, cultural, academic or commercial partnerships with the UK.
A word on the conflict. It is a tragedy. Well over 250,000 dead. Millions displaced, in need, and seeking refuge overseas. I cannot see a happy future for Syria with Assad remaining in power. That is as much a practical point as a moral one. Ultimately he has to go. My colleagues and I work as if this conflict will end tomorrow. We work on relieving Syrians’ suffering, supporting the Opposition, trying to force an international community consensus on how to negotiate transition without Assad, and keeping the pressure up on him and his regime.
The Chevening programme is one part of that. It is important is that these ambitious Syrians are prepared to use their further study in the UK to build a better future for Syria. This year we have future humanitarian workers, development specialists, architects, analysts, journalists and engineers, to name but a few. They will all be in a powerful position to save their country upon returning to Syria.
I’m really pleased that more than half of this year’s scholars are women. It is an obvious truth that powerful women voices must be central to resolving violent conflict. I have no time for the tired cliché that the only thing to worry about with women in conflict is that they are protected. Sure, they must be protected, as must be innocent girls, boys and men. The bigger point is that women must be able to stand up and be counted in bringing peace to the country.
We asked our Cheveners about their thoughts for the year ahead. Many were looking forward to meeting new people, discovering new places and to broadening their knowledge of their areas of expertise. One scholar commented, “one more time, my life is titled with ‘if’”, encapsulating both the excitement and the uncertainty of what lies ahead – for the majority, this will be their first trip to the UK. Others were realistic about missing home and the emotional strain of leaving behind loved ones. A scholar heading to SOAS expressed her concerns about finding a ‘different Syria’ upon returning after a year away. One can’t help but sympathise when we see how quickly, and tragically, things have developed in Syria over the past 4 years. The overwhelming feeling in the room, however, was anticipation and enthusiasm for the coming year.
A final message to all ‘Cheveners’ as you get ready to embark on your UK adventure:
Take this pleasure in this moment. Know you are the best of the best. Get ready to enjoy what will be a great time in the UK. And then come back and see us, so that we can work together for Syria.
And to potential future Cheveners, applications are now open for 2016-17. To find out more, you can visit www.chevening.org/Syria. The deadline for applications this year is 3 November 2015.