Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Scholarships - Where are Tanzanians (again)?

Following her successful application to a scholarship program that she read about in the Wanazuoni: Tanzania's Intellectuals online forum at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/wanazuoni/, a friend from a neighboring country wrote: "As you can see from our profiles http://www.africaportal.org/exchange/students-profile, the Nigerians dominated the research grants, where are the Tanzanian scholars?" This question raised a lot of interesting responses from Tanzanians. Some of them are reproduced below:


The example presented here (the profiles) might be 'one story' thing but I feel it represent a true picture about Tanzanians. We could argue that many of the PhD students enrolled in Tanzania universities had other sources of fund - an excuse for Tanzanians not to appear in the list. Still, (generally speaking) the share of Tanzania in these competitive domains is very small be it in academic, business, innovation, arts,... you name them. There could be many reasons contributing to his, but here is the list according to my experiences (mainly focusing on academic opportunities/scholarships and international jobs).

1. Not being aggressive enough to look for the opportunities.

2. Inadequate skills to prepare proposals or statements of intent. We are not very conversant with preparing effective application letters (content and persuasive language). In some situations, we get lucky to have the skills but fail to meet the deadlines etc.

3. Believing that such opportunities require connections and/or favours. Most of us refrain from applying thinking that we can't afford to win as we are not known or can't find godfathers (or godmothers??). It's very easy to prove this - refer a friend to a job or scholarship opportunity and s/he will ask you to either write a letter on his/her behalf. This could get worse to being asked to submit the application on their behalf.

Who to blame? Someone said we are very good at it.... we blame too much.
I can't think of the solutions but if the above reasons are true, then it's a good step towards thinking about what we need to do to reverse the trend.

- Kapongola

One addition will be that: many young scholars do not seek advice especially in editing and getting some useful content comments on their draft proposals, application statements, etc. They feel ashamed in case something is terribly wrong in their writing style and content. Usually we are encouraged to share our draft write-ups with people we trust can provide some useful comments on improving them. But maybe we are too proud to expose our writing weaknesses such that we end up submitting poorly constructed ideas and poorly written proposals. We need to get over this pride.

- Baruani

Scholarships, grants, fellowships, you name it, are very competitive in the knowledge economy. The institutions offering the scholarships want to recruit the best talents, and therefore the recruitment process in most cases is rigorous. It is not surprising that most of us (Tanzanians) are priced out of the market. I have the following issues to highlight.

Many fellowships require degree holders with higher GPAs. The problems in our education system in our country is that the assessment/examination system do not in most cases offer students opportunities to earn what they deserve. Examination are prepared to eliminate not to test understanding, and competence, as it is in developed countries. As result a proportional of students completing with outstanding grades is marginal (not based on scientific data; it is my own views and experience, but can be researched, or anyone with data can help).

Until recently, university education was a preserve of a few 'deemed' higher flyers, because you wouldn't go to UDSM or Sokoine, and Mzumbe uni... if you were an average student not a higher achiever. Even those higher achievers who managed the majority did not realize their dreams, and most ended with seconds (lowers or pass) degrees or degree equivalents. Thus lower GPAs are a barrier to competing in scholarships, unless you are specifically selected by the institution as part of long term/short term on job training/career development programme.

With the advent of private owned universities in Tanzania, these offer a fair assessment (examination) of their students work, and majority of students graduate with good grades. Consequently, students from the elite universities have been complaining that they receive poor grades compared to their fellows from these private universities. Note that these private universities are in business, they must adhere to customer satisfaction, in terms of knowledge transfer and performance of their students. As no one would be ready to sell a poor performing university to potential students. Locally, the competition in the labour market is stiff and I am not sure who are winners and losers among elite (mainstream ) university graduates and those from private universities.

I agree with Baruani, Sulle and Kapongola's earlier comments, but would emphasize that the majority of Tanzania graduates lack transferable skills such as writing, communication, interview skills, and even CVs are not professionally prepared. This is a weakness in the education system of 'copy and paste'.

Furthermore, we don't have a culture of supporting each other especially in education issues, lakini kwa harusi tuko tayari kutumia mamilioni ya pesa, sina nia mbaya kwa wale ambao hamjaoa, nasema tu tumekuwa na culture of extravagance.

On the one hand, Baruani mentioned that maybe people are not ready to expose their writing weaknesses by seeking help, because of being too proud. On the other hand, the practice is that those with skills are not silent helpers, they are arrogant, once they help 'wanaanza ah bila mimi huyo asingekuwa....'. so people have reasons to protect their status quo, mtu anakufa na tai shingoni, maskini jeuri, na ndiyo haya mambo yanatufanya hatuonekani sana katika hizi scholarships, acha kazi katika mashirika ya kimataifa hapo nyumbani tu. So those who help others have to learn to be humble servants, watavuna kwa wakati wake.

Personally I acknowledge those who are taking trouble to give us scholarships, grants fellowships, employment information, God bless you. Finally but not least, those seeking scholarships, fellowship and grants need to invest sufficient time in advance, unafanya kama kazi, italipa tu.

Together we shall overcome.

- Maziku

Nimependa michango yote kwa ujumla.Mimi pia naamini kuwa wakati mwingine GPA inaweza kuwa sababu ya watu kushindwa kushindana lakini tatizo lingine ninaloliona katika vyuo vyetu ni ushiriki wa wanafunzi kwenye mambo mengine ya kijamii na vyama mbalimbali ndani na nje ya chuo.

Ukimaliza chuo na ukawa na GPA ndogo halafu pia huna ushiriki wa namna yeyote kwenye mambo mbalimbali nafikiri unakuwa kwenye nafasi mbaya zaidi ya kuweza kushindana.Nina mifano ya rafiki zangu wengi tu ambao walimaliza na GPA za kawaida tu lakini wameweza kushindana katika baadhi ya nafasi kwa kuwa uzoefu wao na ushiriki wao katika hizo jumuiya mbalimbali zimewapa edge!

Hivyo nafikiri ni nzuri kushawishi vijana wajiunge kwenye hizi jumuiya mbalimbali vyuoni na pia nje ya chuo kwani zinawapa huo ujuzi ambao pengine wasingeweza kuupata darasani lakini pia inawapa nafasi ya kukutana na watu ambao wanaweza kuwa wa msaada zaidi inapofika wakati wa kufanya hata hizo application za scholarships.

Unapomaliza chuo na msaada pekee ni toka kwa profesa wako tu sidhani kama unaweza kupiga hatua kama mtu ambaye anamaliza na anafahamiana na watu wengi huko kwenye ulimwengu wa kazi.

Kujiunga tu na jumuiya kama hii ya wanazuoni inaweza pia kumsaidia mtu kuona fursa nyingi mno na pia kujifunza mengi mno.Wakati mwingine unaweza usichangie sana lakini ukichukua muda wako kusoma kila kinachoandikwa kwenye jukwaa kama hili nafikiri kuna mengi ya kujifunza.Ukiweza kutumia fursa nyingi ambazo Subi, Chambi na wengine wengi wanatushirikisha basi nafikiri hakuna sababu ya kushindwa kushindana!

- Nkunga

Two quick additions:

1. While GPA is one of the key objective assessment criterion, it is usually not the only one and people shouldn't get discouraged. If one has at least an upper second GPA (anything from 3.5/5 upwards) one is very competitive. What is needed to qualify the low GPA is a comparative assessment by the recommenders e.g. by stating that despite the student having a 3.6/5.0 GPA but s/he was among the top 1% or 5% in the class. This helps putting the GPA in context and better presentation of the student's abilities. But do our referees care about this? NO, they don't. They write brief one page letters which are not personalized any how. They don't state what is unique about their students and how the students compares to his/her peers in academic performance, leadership, independence of thoughts, etc.

2. This leads to my next point. A weak GPA combined with an excellent letter of recommendation addresses the issue of a weak GPA. And the student has the task to "earn" that excellent letter of recommendation. You don't get it by simply asking for it. But supply information to the letter writers so that they have right information to compose that outstanding letter of recommendation. You also earn it by nurturing good relations and ensuring visibility by your professors/lecturers.

3. From my experience through sitting on panels reviewing applications for masters and PhD scholarships, the GPA was never the most important criterion. It is the CV and the research statement. Therefore, it's a combination of many factors that enables one win a scholarship and not a single factor. After all, no one is excellent in all the different factors. They complement each other. However, it is always important to pay sufficient attention to all application materials: transcripts (good GPA), statement of purpose, research statement, CV, letters of recommendation, writing samples, etc.

Talking about these things in abstract terms is useful but maybe if people have some examples/experiences to share, it would be helpful as well to stress that we, Tanzanians, possess the right qualifications but lack the aggresiveness and determination required in pursuing these scholarships.

Chambi, Maziku, Sulle, Subi, Kathleen, Nyirenda, etc, you have all earned some outstanding scholarships, do you have 5.0/5.0 GPAs? Tell us.

- Baruani

I certainly do not have a 4.0 GPA nor did I have one before getting a scholarship here...if anything I believe I owe it to the letters of recommendation that were sealed when mailed (I never saw what was written of me).


Test issues!

Most of the US graduate universities require GRE and TOEFL scores of which very few Tanzanians plan to attempt (others tests include GMAT, SAT, IELTS etc). There is a general fear about these tests among graduates - in most cases this fear is spread by people who do not know anything about the tests. There is the money issue too, for example the GRE and TOEFL tests currently cost about $190 and $160 respectively. Still, there is a charge for additional score reports that ranges between $17 and $23 (for those who would apply to more than one institution). These rates could be a limiting factor for Tanzanians who want to sit for these tests.

Keeping the fear and money issues aside, such tests require good planning and motivation. How many of us have the required motivation and plan ahead for such tests?

- Kapongola

Actually I have never known what my GPA is or even bothered to calculate it though I have always had a feeling that it is very low as I repeated a couple of courses.

I strongly believe that our greatest need as Tanzanians is to believe that it is possible to prepare a competitive application regardless of our past educational limitations.

- Chambi

Mshale, umesema kweli.

Mimi nina scholarship ya shirika la Uchumi na Maendeleo ya Science ya jamii kupitia Research Degrees Committee fund for Law School research projects. Na Assessment yangu ilifanyika nikiwa sijamaliza shule kwenye Master yangu ya pili. Napatana nawe zaidi kwa kile ulichokiita recommendation. Master yangu ya pili nilisimamiwa na Deputy Dean wa Faculty, mnaweza soma wadhifu wake m-kigoogle, Prof. Nigel Fielding. Reference yake, na ya course director pamoja na Proposal nzuri niliyoandika na kusahihishwa na Maziku (Huwa tunamwita Prof. Masabuda) pamoja na kufaulu mitihani yao vilitosha kunipatia fedha za kusomea miaka mitatu.

GPA ni mfumo wa Elimu ya Kimarekani. Nimesoma University tatu za Waingereza na GPA si sehemu ya assessment criteria maana haitumiki kama grading system. Nafahamu pia kuna British Universities ziko Americanised. Wale mliosoma league table aliyoituma Maziku the top 100 University only 4 are British universities and 78 were Americans. That is to say, British subjectivity to American ways of doing education is something that British universities are begged to consider.

Nadhani networking ni kitu muhimu sana.

- Chaggama

Binafsi scholarship ya kwanza ya America niliipata kwa jasho, niliwekeza muda na hii ilipatikana kwa ushindani sikuwa na GPA. Transcripts zangu mbili moja ya hapo nyumbani TZ haionyeshi GPA, ila nilikuwa overall best student (academic performance). Transcript ya pili ya Nairobi ina Distinction hakuna GPA iliyoandikwa.

Kilichonisaidia zaidi katika kupata scholarships ni professor wangu wa Nairobi, aliweka very strong recommendations. Nasikitika hapo nyumbani TZ nilihangaika sana kupata recommendations kutoka kwa walimu wangu, and since then nikatafuta external network, huo ndio uzoefu.

Scholarship ya pili, ya University of Reading, it was automatic, niliomba admission tu, lakini walinipa admission na scholarship, sijui kama waliangalia academic records hadi leo sina jibu, na sijawauliza.

Kwa ujumla classifications (GPAs/Pass, merit, & distinction) etc ni muhimu, lakini zaidi sana kuna factors za msingi hasa statement of purpose, na references na kama una exprience ya kazi usiache kuiweka. Baruani ameeleza a typical American system wanayotumia ni ya kuzingatia. Ingawa zinaweza kutofautiana kidogo kati ya nchi na nchi ila kwa ujumla comment zake ni za msaada sana.

Nimeandika hapo juu kwa faida ya wanazuoni, na vile Baruani alivyouliza.

Tuendelee kusaidiana kwa mawazo na uzoefu, ni sehemu muhimu ya kupata experience, na kama mtu ana shida huwa nawaambia Watanzania wenzangu usife peke yako. Kwa wanazuoni hii network ni social capital, tujadili, tusaidiane na tusonge mbele.

- Maziku

Nakumbuka watu wa US society in political science walipokuja hapa Tz kulikuwa hakuna mtz aliye apply. Na hii ilikuwa teaching seminar na wenyeji hata mmoja hajaaaply ingawa tulijaaribu sana kuitangaza na kushawishi watu ambao wako vyuoni, junior scholars na wanaharakati. sijui watz wana nini?

- Salma

Siye tuko nyuma mno kutokana na kuzingatia elimu ya msingi enzi zile wakati wenzetu walikuwa wanapaa hewani. Sasa tunakimbilia kwenye elimu ya ju lakini bado tuko nyuma/duni. Tutabaki nyuma tu, hata ukizingatia kuwa hata kujiamini ni tatizo kubwa. Tuna tatizo la kitaifa.

- Mobhare

Sitaki kueleweka vibaya kwa sababu mimi ninafanya kazi ya kufunza ila nasema ukweli. Nilikuwa na GPA ninazoweza kusema 'za juu sana' kwenye shahada yangu ya kwanza na ya pili (kama UD wangekuwa wanaiweka kwa shahada ya pili). Nilitafuta scholarship ya PhD kwa miaka 3 (toka 2004 sikupata hadi nilipopata 2007). Wanachosema wanazuoni wengine kuhusu kufanya kazi ya zaidi ya GPA ndicho cha msingi. Watanzania tufanye kazi ya kukusanya na kuandika kwa ufasihi hizo nyaraka za ziada. Tuache uvivu, uzembe, woga na kudanganyana. Kiutendaji, GPA ni rahisi sana kuipata lakini kuitumia ni ngumu zaidi.

- Vicensia

I don't want to repeat but I think in most universities Professors highly consider applicants' other achievements like what you have published, exemplary work you have performed, leadership experience etc. Just because I had a publication in 2009 though really proof-read and edited by experts was enough for me to get admissions and scholarships at the universities of Edinburgh, Sweden, Ohio, VJ University and Maryland. At the end I was stuck in making a decision of where to go. Also, the other thing people often forget is to mention the realities like your family background etc. I have seen someone getting admitted just because she/he was from the poor family in rural areas.

- Sulle

I am very sure that these are very valid explanations as to why, we, Tanzanians are missing in action as far as those scholarship offerings are concerned. However, I think there might be more to it, in additional to the many good reasons offered here as to why we don't have a strong showing, and here are few more perspectives:-

1. Small Competitive Base - As we have been exploring this issue, we have measured ourselves in relationship with the strong showing of other African nations. In my humble opinion, I think Tanzania's competitive base (the pool) for graduate and postgraduate candidates is just too small compared to other countries. Up until very recently, our focus was to mandate only primary education and that we tried to do. Even when that changed, if I am not mistaken, during Mkapa's era, it was changed to promote up to secondary education.

Tertiary education, for whatever reasons, has not been promoted properly in Tanzania to make it tenable. As a results, the few who are priviledged to go to University are faced with great many challenges, underfunded, mistreated and when done, it could be fair if they choose to retire in the education path. So public policy is secondary education, some who push themselves beyond secondary education are worn out in their undergraduate studies and you may find that very few are still motivated to pursue graduate and post-graduate studies, hence, seek these kinds of funding we are discussing. So number one, I think the Tanzanian graduate and post-graduate candidates pool is very small both in terms of qualification and motivation, in comparison to our other African compatriots.

2. Vijisenti - Now, the few that are qualified and motivated to pursue further studies may also not show up in these lists for, in my opinion, three other reasons. First, vijisenti. I have met a number of Tanzanian students who are fully sponsored by their families so they do not bother to seek any kind of scholarship, hence, no show in the scholarship listing. In the university I am working now we have a number of Tanzanian students both undergraduate and graduate who are family-sponsored and they are doing fine. In fact, the pocket money they get from home is sometimes more than my few months' salaries. So, these will not make a showing in the scholarship listing. It's striking to see that students from Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and other countries get some scholarships but Tanzanians and Nigerians are mainly sponsored by their families.

3. Kazi - I have also met a number of graduate and postgraduate Tanzanian students who work to sponsor themselves. Chambi I think when you came to visit in Berrien Springs you met the Migombos, Mwashingas and others who did their Masters and are now doing their PhDs by working and paying their way.

4. Other Funding Sources - I was in Tallahassee, Florida few years ago and I met two outstanding Tanzanian personalities. One in particular was a Department Head and was in-charge of disbursing funding for research for his department. Before going to Florida he was at UDSM, so what he was doing was recruiting engineering students from Tanzania, especially graduate students from UDSM for fully funded studies at Florida State University (FSU). And it was an impressive sight to go to that department and almost everywhere you turn you see fellow Tanzanians busy with different kinds of engineering researches they were brought there to do. In their own admission, some of them while talking to them admitted that they had no plans to pursue graduate studies until they got the fully funded post at FSU. And those who endured they did their Masters as well as PhDs in that arrangement. And I believe this is not an isolated case because a short distance from there, we met another Tanzanian who was a Vice-Chancelor, if I remember correctly, for Finance and Administration for another university and was helping other Tanzanian students to go there.

Now, having said that, I am not in any way, shape or form, suggesting here that students from other African countries do not do these other kinds of things, they do, I am just contending here that, we have a small pool of candidates, from that pool if you take out those who are family-sponsored, self-sponsored and those using other funding sources, wanaobaki wanakuwa wachache sana kuwa visible kwenye scholarship listings ndiyo maana tunabakiwa tu na kina Chambi, Maziku, Sulle, Subi, Kathleen, Nyirenda, etc.

- Gureni

Visit http://www.tansao.info/ for information about Tanzania Student Achievement Organisation (TanSAO) that is 'Seeking University and Scholarship Opportunity Worldwide"

You may also wish to visit http://www.wavuti.com/scholarships.html


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