Shuttleworth Postgraduate Scholarship Programme

31 Jul 2019 - 10:15

The Department of Mathematics & Applied Mathematics at UCT has set up a programme where it is offering up to five Shuttleworth Postgraduate Scholarships (Honours, MSc and PhD levels) to highly motivated black South African students, who aspire to become academics. The Shuttleworth Postgraduate Scholarship aims to train the next generation of black South African pure and applied mathematicians, by providing a unique learning programme at one of the leading Centres of Mathematics in Africa.

Each Shuttleworth Postgraduate Scholarship has a value of R200 000 per annum to cover fees and living costs.The grants go up by 10% per annum and is thus R220K for 2020. In addition, each scholar will annually receive R20 000 for computer equipment and research travel. Successful applicants are expected to participate in the scientific life of the department and will have the opportunity to supplement the scholarship with some teaching and/or tutoring activities.

The programme has been set up to address issues of transformation and to create a pipeline of students who can move into academic positions within the department – thereby allowing the department to grow their own timber.    The idea is to support top black research students and consider what it would take for them to stay in Academia.  The idea behind this programme is that students would not have to worry about money and keep applying for funding and that they would be assured of a job at the end of their long road to completing their studies.  For many students, once they have finished their studi es, they have families to support.

Professor Peter Dunsby, head of the department of Mathematics & Applied Mathematicsput together a proposal and approached Mark Shuttleworth with a request to give each student a scholarship amounting to R200K.  Mark graciously accepted and has donated R6 million and if the scholarship programme goes well, potentially another R6 million will be donated later.  This is the largest donation Mark Shuttleworth has made to the university and is a significant step.  The strategy is to pursue this programme for a decade, with the hope of completely transforming the Department of Mathematics.  With the money invested, the programme aims to generate a scholarship every 2 years through the interest.

The Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics wants to get the cream of the crop for the programme and after advertising nationally, received 25 applications and six students were shortlisted and put through a rigorous selection process.  The idea behind the rigorous selection process was that this would mirror what happens when people apply for a job at UCT.  It is hoped that at least half of those on the programme will be working in the department at the end of the six years. 

The department will also be looking to raise money for supporting grants for researchers who mentor and support students on this programme.  Professor Dunsby comments, “I really believe we can drive transformation through research”. He also said that they are investigating adding a scholarship stream targeting female students.  The Department is currently actively fundraising for the female scholars programme and the UCT Development and Alumni office is approaching potential donors.

The current students on the programme are: Yanga Bavuma and Simon Chili.


Simon Chili on being part of the Shuttleworth programme:

I am very grateful to be part of the Shuttleworth Scholarship Programme. It has been exciting and great thus far, but I can only say this is the beginning.  I always had an interest in Mathematics and this has provided me with a solid support to pursue my interests and continue to deepen my understanding of the subject. It is a privilege to have the best teachers and mentors in the department who continuously inspire and contribute to our understanding.

The scholarship also provides opportunities to travel and meet other Mathematicians, which is not only good for my growth but also to inspire other younger students.  I hope to see a strong developing South African Mathematical culture in the future - a culture in which Mathematics is not seen as a subject to be studied for an exam but for its beauty and elegance - this is amongst the reasons I love sharing the little I know with younger students.

Looking back at the past, we see a continuous development of Mathematics - each generation discovering new Mathematical objects and clarifying the previous concepts to improve understanding. For me, this is the fun part about Mathematics - and with rapid increase in Mathematical literature, I find elegant unifications and clarifications very rewarding. I hope our generation will also help further this development and I believe it all begins with learning here and there a 'little'.

I thus really believe that the Shuttleworth Scholarship Programme serves a powerful role in supporting a learning journey.

Yanga Bavuma on his selection to the Shuttleworth Scholarship programme

Initially it was very frustrating, as a result of admin errors that took a while to be sorted out, but since then it has been smooth sailing. The Scholarship has meant that I live somewhat comfortably and am even able to help out at home, which is the sort of thing you worry about when you're studying and black. So in that regard it's been great support.

Being part of the programme has also given me a chance to form a relationship with my fellow scholarship programme student, the very talented Mr Simon Chilli. I'm sure his influence alone will help greatly with my development. Also on this scholarship I have been given opportunities for international exposure in the form of a conference I'm going to attend and present at in Johannesburg as well as going to Italy for a couple of weeks in September.

I know that one of the aims of  the programme is to encourage me to become a lecturer but I want to be a good researcher as well, so this year (and maybe next year as well) I am able to focus on my research because of the support received from this scholarship.

I am really grateful for having been chosen for this scholarship.