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Commonwealth Scholarships

The Commonwealth Scholarships are a postgraduate scholarship scheme to enable outstanding postgraduate students from countries in the Commonwealth to study at British universities, demonstrating the UK’s commitment to the Commonwealth. This UK Government funding scheme is run by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) – an executive non-departmental public body that is sponsored by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. The aim of the Commonwealth Scholarships is to educate future leaders and innovators from Commonwealth countries – and particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – by funding them to study at British universities. Within this funding scheme eligible international students from low and middle income Commonwealth countries can study their postgraduate program at UK universities and then return to their home countries able to make a difference. The first group of Commonwealth Scholars arrived in the UK in 1960 – there were 175 in total. Since the inception that number has grown considerably and to date over 27,800 people have benefitted from a Commonwealth Scholarship, with around 800 Commonwealth Scholarships being awarded each year.

Promoting international cooperation

In a similar way to the Chevening Scholarships and Marshall Scholarships – one of the purposes of the Commonwealth Scholarships is to encourage better international cooperation between the UK and the eligible countries. Future leaders and innovators are funded to study at British universities where they can learn about life the UK and develop a broad network of international contacts, returning home not only with a new postgraduate qualification, but other skills including a great understanding of life in the UK. They can then bring this learned knowledge and experience to their home countries, thereby promoting international cooperation and
understanding, which will hopefully enable them to build a better future for their country.

Invaluable university resource

Commonwealth Scholarships help to attract bright and dynamic international students from Commonwealth countries to UK universities, providing them with a world-class education. As well as being of obvious advantage to the Commonwealth students, this scheme is also extremely beneficial to the UK universities as they get the advantage of having these outstanding students attending their institutions and collaborating in research and academic projects with their faculty members. This in turn gives all of their students and staff members the opportunity to build a shared future and network with these outstanding students as well as to learn about other cultures.

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Who is eligible for a Commonwealth Scholarship?

Commonwealth Scholarships are for outstanding students and future leaders and motivators from low and middle income Commonwealth countries. These scholarships are for those students from Commonwealth countries who feel they could make a difference to the world as a result of postgraduate study, but are unable to afford the associated costs of postgraduate study. As well as being able to demonstrate excellent academic skills – at least 2:1 bachelors degree or a 2:2 and relevant PG qualification – eligible applicants need to:

✓ Be a citizen of an eligible Commonwealth country/granted refugee status of an eligible Commonwealth country/or be a British Protected Person.

✓ Be permanently resident in an eligible Commonwealth country.

✓ Be unable to afford to study in the UK without the Commonwealth scholarship.

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Applying for a Commonwealth Scholarship

The CSC does not accept direct applications for the Commonwealth Scholarships, instead eligible applicants need to apply to either their national nominating agency or one of a select number of non-governmental organisations and charitable bodies. Each nominating body is responsible for its own selection process, so it is important to check whether they have additional eligibility criteria and also what their closing date for applications is.

Documents that you are likely to need when applying for a Commonwealth Scholarship include:

  • Copy of your valid passport (or national ID card) showing your photograph, date of birth, and country of citizenship.
  • Full transcripts detailing all your higher education qualifications including transcripts for any qualifications you are currently studying (with certified translations if not in English).
  • At least two references.

Further information on applying for a Commonwealth Scholarship can be found here.

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What types of Commonwealth Scholarship are there?

There are several different categories of Commonwealth Scholarship for potential postgraduate students to apply for, and all of them are offered under six development themes:

  • Science and technology for development
  • Strengthening health systems and capacity
  • Promoting global prosperity
  • Strengthening global peace, security and governance
  • Strengthening resilience and response to crises
  • Access, inclusion and opportunity

There is no restriction on what you can study at postgraduate level, but the CSC gives priority to applicants whose studies are most relevant to their development criteria.

Commonwealth PhD Scholarships

Commonwealth PhD Scholarships enable applicants from least developed countries and fragile states in the Commonwealth to study a PhD full time at a UK university. Here are the countries of the Commonwealth currently eligible to apply for a PhD Scholarship.

Commonwealth Split-site Scholarships

Commonwealth Split-site Scholarships are for PhD candidates from low and middle income Commonwealth countries. These scholarships enable the candidate to spend up to 12 months studying their PhD at a UK university as part of their doctoral studies in their home country.

Commonwealth Masters Scholarships

Commonwealth Masters Scholarships are for candidates from eligible lower and upper middle income Commonwealth countries to study a masters program full time at a UK university. Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented circumstances created by the Coronavirus Pandemic, in 2021 some national agencies will not be invited to nominate for Commonwealth Masters Scholarships as a significant number of Masters Scholars have deferred their studies to 2021. This means that for this year fewer Masters Scholarships candidates will be selected and recruitment will be drawn from countries not invited to nominate for Commonwealth PhD Scholarships, this means that the Commonwealth countries that have not been invited to nominate this year will be represented by Masters Scholars previously selected in 2020 but who, as a result of Covid-19 had to defer their scholarship to 2021.

Here are the countries of the Commonwealth currently eligible to apply for a Commonwealth Masters Scholarship.

Commonwealth Shared Scholarships

Commonwealth Shared Scholarships are for candidates from least developed and lower middle income Commonwealth countries to study a full-time masters program on selected courses – the funding is jointly supported by UK universities. Many world-class UK universities participate in the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship Scheme including University College London (UCL) and the University of Birmingham.

Here are the countries of the Commonwealth currently eligible to apply for a Commonwealth Shared Scholarship.

Commonwealth Distance Learning Scholarships

Commonwealth Distance Learning Scholarships are offered for citizens of certain developing Commonwealth countries to study a masters program via distance learning at a UK university.

Commonwealth PhD Scholarships (for high income Commonwealth Countries)

Commonwealth PhD Scholarships are for candidates from high income countries for full-time doctoral study at a UK university.

Commonwealth Medical Fellowships

Commonwealth Medical Fellowships are for mid-career medical staff from low and middle income countries to enhance their clinical skills.

Commonwealth Professional Fellowships

Commonwealth Professional Fellowships are for mid-career professionals from low and middle income Commonwealth countries to spend between six weeks and three months at a UK Host organisation working in their sector on a program of professional development.

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Universities participating in Commonwealth Shared Scholarships

Eligible candidates can apply for Commonwealth Shared Scholarships at participating UK universities to get help funding their postgraduate program. Almost 100 UK universities have agreed to part-fund Commonwealth Scholarships, here the universities contribute 20% of the overseas tuition fee, thereby enabling the CSC to increase the number of awards available to citizens of least developed and middle-income countries. Participating UK universities include many world-class institutions and they will all have information about this opportunity on their funding pages. 

Here is a list of all the universities participating in the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship Scheme.

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Outstanding alumni

Since its launch in 1959 over 28,500 Commonwealth Scholars and Fellows have been funded by the UK government through the CSC. This prestigious funding scheme has produced many exceptional alumni, including Nobel Prize winners, Prime Ministers, business leaders and eminent academics. This table illustrates just a small example of some of the trailblazing individuals who have studied at a UK university with the help of a Commonwealth Scholarship, showing what they studied and where, as well as what they went on to achieve.

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Related articles

Chevening Scholarships

Marshall Scholarships

Postgraduate Scholarships

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