With over 400 postgraduates from all over the world, Churchill’s postgraduate students form a vital part of the College’s diverse academic community. They are tomorrow’s innovators and leaders, conducting ground-breaking research to address global social and scientific challenges.
At Churchill, our aim has always been to seek out the most talented postgraduate students who, after completing their degrees, will help make a difference to the world we live in. Competition for the best research students is fierce and international, and we need to act now if we wish to continue attracting the finest minds in the world. Drastic cuts to Research Councils mean that there are fewer research studentships than before. In addition, the tripling of undergraduate tuition fees and the enormous debt with which UK students will be saddled upon graduating will inevitably deter many excellent prospective postgraduate students from pursuing postgraduate studies.
The estimated annual cost for a Home student studying for an MPhil ranges from £23,000 to £26,000, rising to as high as £43,000 for an overseas student for some science subjects. Four years ago the UK Government introduced a Postgraduate Masters Loan of up to £10,000 but this sum does not even cover tuition fees. We are now faced with the very real fact that postgraduate study is becoming unaffordable for all but the most privileged. This is not just a crisis for Churchill’s postgraduate community but a crisis for Cambridge and the UK as increasingly, prospective postgraduates are turning to universities outside the UK where support, especially for living expenses, is easier to come by. We need to support more postgraduate students to help prevent a ‘brain drain’ from the UK and to ensure that the brightest minds are provided with the freedom to concentrate on their studies, challenge the status quo and find ways to make the world work better, regardless of their financial background.
To help met this challenge, the College is currently committed to supporting a number of postgraduate studentships and you can read some of their stories below. They have come to Churchill from as far afield as Gaza and South Africa, and their stories are inspirational. Unfortunately, College funds for studentships are limited and we need to do more. One of the key aims of the Think Forward campaign is therefore to continue to build our Graduate Studentship Endowment Fund to enable the College to support more postgraduate students. We want to keep our doors open to the world’s best minds and talents, enabling them to benefit from what Churchill has to offer, and for us to benefit from their rich range of insights and talent in return.
Postgraduate Studentship stories
Tala Shurrub (G20) was born and raised in Gaza. In 2014 she experienced three military assaults, one of which destroyed her family home. Tala received a scholarship to study for a year in the USA, but she was haunted by flashbacks because of the trauma she had experienced. Encouraged to seek help from a counsellor – a course of action that would have been considered taboo in her home country – the support she received helped her to understand and manage her symptoms, and she decided to study Psychology.
Tala secured a scholarship to study Psychology at the Lebanese America University where a chance conversation alerted her to the Palestinian Studentship at Churchill, but her path to Cambridge was complicated by the pandemic. Tala managed to travel from Lebanon to Jordan but the next day the border with Gaza was closed. Whilst in Jordan Tala heard she had been awarded the Palestinian Studentship, which is joint funded by Churchill College and the Cambridge Commonwealth European & International Trust (CCEIT). The Studentship would cover the £28,000 course fees and maintenance costs for Tala’s MPhil in Psychology and Education. She recalls going into shock when she first received the news!
The pandemic continued to cause disruption and it was only thanks to a series of lucky events she was able to reach Churchill in October 2020 where she immediately felt at home thanks to the friendliness of the community.
Tala’s research interests are focused around trauma, resilience and education. In the future she wants to offer something practical to her home community but for now she feels incredibly grateful for the Studentship and the opportunity it has provided.
Many of those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are extremely creative and great problem solvers, but they can be over-looked or feel the opportunities available are not open to them. I only wish that more funding could be made available so that others like me can access the incredible opportunities available here at Churchill and Cambridge.
Ayanda Mhlongo (G20) is from Kwazulu Natal in South Africa and is studying for a one-year MPhil in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies at Churchill. She is the current holder of the Cambridge Trust and Churchill South African Bursary. The Studentship is joint-funded by the Cambridge Trust and Churchill College and covers course fees and an annual maintenance grant for living expenses.
Ayanda was born at a time when University was not an option for her parents who were both involved in the fight against apartheid. She attended a government high school with forty in each class, with very limited resources, and it was often a struggle to pay the fees. She vividly recalls going to school hungry and learnt how to fast to concentrate when she experienced hunger.
Driven by a deep motivation to escape poverty, Ayanda secured a scholarship at the University of Cape Town and achieved a distinction for her BA in Social Sciences and an MA in social development before arriving at Churchill in October 2020. Her MPhil course has a taught element but it is through her research focus of understanding menstrual management and period poverty within the refugee population that Ayanda plans to make a lasting difference.
Ayanda loves the peace and calm of the College site and the people she has met thus far. She can’t wait to explore Cambridge more widely and very much hopes to continue on with a PhD at Churchill in the future. Above all, she is driven to succeed by the trauma of not wanting to experience deprivation and a strong desire to help others.
Firstly, this studentship will not only be helpful for me – it will also benefit other women whose voices are not heard. Secondly, it will provide me with the opportunity to sharpen my skills and knowledge and meet people who can help me be the ground breaker and leader that I aspire to be.
James Brown Kinsella
James Brown Kinsella (G20) is from a small, rural community in upstate New York and is currently undertaking an MPhil in Asian & Middle Eastern Studies at Churchill College. His research focus is classical Chinese with a particular interest in the philosophical significance of music.
James first developed an interest in philosophy whilst at Princeton studying liberal arts. The courses he took kindled a growing fascination with Chinese philosophy and he went on to spend a summer in China studying the language. After Princeton, James won a prestigious fellowship at the Yenching Academy of Peking University, where he studied early Chinese philosophy in an interdisciplinary, contemporary, and Chinese context.
Eager to continue with his studies in the field, James was attracted to apply for the MPhil course at Churchill because of the funding opportunity it offered via the Simon Henry Studentship. The fees for his course alone are £27,000 so he was delighted when he was awarded the Studentship which provides funding of £21,000 from Churchill alumnus Simon Henry (U79) plus a small additional amount from the Cambridge Trust.
Coming to Churchill would not have been an option without the Simon Henry Studentship due to the paucity of funding available for MPhil courses. I am very grateful to have been given the chance to pursue my dreams and fill in the holes remaining in my education in Chinese Culture as the final stepping stone to a PhD.
James lives in accommodation on-site and has enjoyed bonding with the other postgraduate students in his bubble, who come from all over the globe. He has also kept busy as an Alto choral volunteer with Jesus choir.
Looking ahead to beyond his current studies, James is applying for a PhD in Chinese Philosophy and ultimately hopes ‘to introduce the next generation of Western leaders to the next global superpower’s influential ideas; and through collaboration, to draw Chinese and Western scholars together as our leaders drive us apart.’
Elre Oldewage (G18) is from Victoria, South Africa and is in the third year of her PhD in the Engineering Department, researching ‘protecting machine learning systems from adversarial attacks’. An interest in computer science runs in Elre’s family – her grandfather ran a pioneering programming school – but her school didn’t offer Computer Science as an option. Undeterred, Elre found an after-school club in a different neighbourhood and went on to complete a Computer Science degree at Pretoria University.
Computer Science struggles with gender imbalance in South Africa, just as it does elsewhere, including the UK. When Elre started her UG course a quarter of the intake were female but this figure dropped to 14% by the time she graduated. Her dream was to continue her studies overseas and she was overjoyed when she was awarded the Schlumberger Studentship to take up her PhD studies at Churchill. As an overseas student it would have cost £92,000 to fund three years of her PhD – but the Studentship funding covers Elre’s course fees and maintenance costs. She lives onsite in the Wolfson flats with her partner, who works from home as a programmer. Having now been at the College for several years, she is in no doubt about the incredible opportunity this funding has provided.
Without the Studentship there is no way I would ever have been able to experience the incredible opportunities for learning and development that have been open to me since coming to Churchill. It is particularly mind-boggling that I am regularly able to speak to people at the forefront of the field. For example, I found myself casually talking to someone who was a key figure in the development of fibre-optics at a recent event run by ChuEng, Churchill College’s Engineering Society.
Elre has aspirations to help combat the inequality that exists both in her field and in her country and she would love to help develop programmes that challenge diversity and open doors.
How you can help
You can read more about the Graduate Studentship Endowment Fund and support the fund with a gift by visiting the project page on the Think Forward website:
You can also contact the development office if you have any questions about different ways to support our postgraduate students: