Shaping future African changemakers
Alumnus Euan Fergusson manages the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at the University. He oversees recruitment of talented African scholars, plans summer schools, and reports on the program's seven-figure budget.
I first studied at Edinburgh in 1996, enrolling in European Union Studies with French. As things do, plans changed and after a Danish Foreign Ministry Scholarship experience at a ‘Folkehøjskole’ in Denmark, I ended up switching to Scandinavian Studies, my outside option. I liked the small ‘hygge’ department and the approachable and inspiring lecturers like Bjarne Thomsen, Arne Kruse and Peter Graves. The possibility of studying a location in great detail – the history, people, politics, and language – appealed greatly.
During my degree, I studied at Copenhagen University and liked it so much I stayed on there for a couple of years. When I eventually came back to Edinburgh, it was my experience of living, studying and working in Denmark which drew me to working within the international aspect of a University.
My first job in this line of work was with a Japanese University who ran an English language summer school. Thereafter, I worked in Aberdeen supporting international students at Robert Gordon University for a couple of years as their first international student adviser. It was a very hands-on role – not only learning how the visa system worked on the job, organising a calendar of summer school events and running two orientations a year - and presenting most of it, too. I also drove the bus for the airport pick-ups!
I came back to Edinburgh and worked in student support in further education for a couple of years, with art and design students. I started working at Edinburgh University in January 2008 as an International Student Adviser, colleague to the amazing Ann MacKay MBE, with two of us providing the visa and immigration advice, events and other support to the University’s international student cohort. She was fantastic to work with and while it was always incredibly busy with few troughs to the many peaks, it was a pleasure because we worked really well together.
Over time, the numbers of international students at the University has grown rapidly. I became manager to a team of six people as the Head of the International Student Advisory Service, running various projects like orientation, the visa service and so on. I studied a part-time Masters in Education with a particular emphasis on international education and human development because I wanted to take time to really study and think about the processes at play in my chosen field – I am passionate about the transformative power of education.
I am Program Manager at the Mastercard Scholars Foundation Program at the University. I started in January 2018 and will be with the program for a year. The program is a partnership between the University and the Mastercard Foundation and the goal is for 200 talented scholars from across Africa who have a deep, personal commitment to being leaders and changemakers to join us for their degree as well as a transformative leadership program. The support provided is all-encompassing and aimed at eliminating barriers to entry – on a financial, practical and pastoral level.
The scholars themselves are very inspirational. From their various journeys to Edinburgh, you hear about their drive, determination, their sense of responsibility to others and their ambition to make a difference in the world around them. We are about to have our second set of graduates and I wouldn’t wish to add pressure to them – but there are so many people you meet on the program who you know in a few short years will be at the absolute top of their game in their chosen fields.
The job has similarly been a source of inspiration. It’s one of those roles where you could be doing anything on a day-to-day level and it often feels more like a very intense professional development programme rather than work. I’ve come to think of it as an intensely practical masters degree.
I have responsibility for managing the team and overseeing all aspects of the program – our annual recruitment process, scholar support, a summer school in Edinburgh and Kampala, planning and reporting on a highly complex seven-figure budget and coordinating with colleagues across the world to deliver various aspects of the wider Mastercard Foundation Program agenda.
Once again, as so often as I’ve seen it, great colleagues are invaluable and the project team – Jo, Christina, Pete, Mike, Derek and Nick – as well as the many people who are involved in the delivery of the program – like our academic colleagues, Sarah-Jane and Kate – are incredibly experienced and dedicated.
In terms of aims for the future, I am very open minded. From the many I’ve met who have come to Scotland to study, their journeys never seem to be particularly linear, but more a collection of junctions, crossroads or shortcuts, which take them towards a different potential future at every turn. You can always join the dots and make a story fit in retrospect, but it’s what feels right and what is in keeping with your experiences, interests and values at the time that matters most.
What drives me just now is cultivating positive relationships with colleagues and partners from across the world, working on a program which specifically aims to create change and creating opportunities for others to discover and fulfil their potential. It feels like that’s the kind of a journey I am on, too.
Something I know...
We have over 20 nationalities as part of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program – with just over 60% of the cohort female. The majority of our Scholars are studying science and engineering subjects. Many of our scholars come to Edinburgh operating in English as only one of many languages they are fluent in.