Image credit: Julie Ferrier
Oxford University has today announced its first scholarship scheme for UK undergraduates of Black African and Caribbean heritage who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The programme is funded by Arlan Hamilton, the international entrepreneur and founder of the social enterprise, Backstage Capital. Image credit: Julie Ferrier

Tech entrepreneur to fund Oxford scholarship for Black British students

Oxford University has today announced its first scholarship scheme for UK undergraduates of Black African and Caribbean heritage who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

The programme is funded by the generosity of Arlan Hamilton, the international entrepreneur and founder of Backstage Capital (the $10 million fund for under-represented, underestimated entrepreneurial business founders), who has rapidly become one of the most influential women in innovation.

The Oxford-Arlan Hamilton & Earline Butler Sims Scholarship - named in part as a living tribute to Arlan’s mother, will provide a full non-repayable scholarship covering fees and living costs for one undergraduate student per year, for three years beginning in 2020. Each beneficiary will also be provided with an internship grant of £3,000 to enhance their employability. In addition, they will have the opportunity to work closely with the Oxford Foundry, the University’s dedicated student and alumni entrepreneurship centre, and ventures on the L.E.V8 accelerator, to enhance their leadership skills and entrepreneurial mindset. Arlan was recently appointed as an Honorary Advisor at the Oxford Foundry, where she is also an ambassador for the L.E.V8 Women Programme, which helps ensure diversity in entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship and innovation is encouraged across the University, through services led by Saïd Business School, as well as Enterprising Oxford, and the central Careers Service, amongst others.
Candidates will be selected using indicators of disadvantage as well as submitting a statement outlining why the scholarship would be beneficial, how it would help them to achieve their academic goals, and how their education would be of future benefit to their community and/or society.

Image credit: Arlan HamiltonThe Oxford-Arlan Hamilton-Earline Butler Sims Scholarship is the first of its kind for Black undergraduates at Oxford, and was named in part as a living tribute to Arlan’s mother. Image credit: Arlan Hamilton

The decision to announce the opportunity over the festive season was made by Arlan herself. Having overcome her own share of hardships on her journey to success - including being homeless, it is very important to her to live in gratitude by giving back and creating opportunities for others.

Her main motivation in choosing Oxford University as the beneficiary of her first University gift, named after her beloved mother, was to inspire others to follow-suit by also creating opportunities for Black scholars to attend the very best universities around the world, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States, like Dillard University, her mother, Mrs. Sims’, alma mater.

She said: ‘Today's a big day. Today is really cool. I love, love, love this. I visited Oxford for the first time earlier this year when I was a guest speaker at their incredible innovation space, the Oxford Foundry. I was given a private tour of the University grounds by a wonderful woman - I hope she hears this - because she is fantastic, and part of the reason that the scholarship exists. She really opened up the University for me, and my imagination, with her honesty and candour.

‘I walked around, and I just saw this beautifully manicured campus, and so many college grounds. And I thought about the history, and how wonderful it must be to study here. I saw some Black people – more than I was expecting, but not as many as I would have liked. I found out more about the thoughtful work that Oxford are doing to widen access for all students, and boost inclusion, and by the end of that 45-minute tour, I said out loud, ‘I want to start a scholarship for Black students at Oxford.

‘Some people may ask me why a UK University over one in the US? But my answer to that is I didn’t (have to) choose—my mother and I are also setting up a scholarship programme at Dillard University, the HBCU, in New Orleans, my mother’s alma mater, and the Oxford programme will run in tandem. We are taking this little by little, and I am so proud to start here.’

Of what her overall goal for the scholarship is, she adds: ‘I just really want someone who didn't, or wouldn't, have had the opportunity to go to this University, to do so. I want them to be truly nurtured and able to focus on themselves, instead of worrying about the things, that perhaps, I have had to worry about in the past – like how you are going to pay your rent, while trying to get an education? I want them to be able to focus on the things that fuel and give them life.

Image credit: Sarah DeragonArlan Hamilton, the international tech-entrepreneur, has funded the first scholarship for Black British students from disadvantaged backgrounds at Oxford. Image credit: Sarah Deragon

‘I know it is going to be very competitive because there are so many wonderful, talented people in the UK. But I also know, the person who receives it will truly want and deserve it. I can't wait to meet the first student who will be the beneficiary of the scholarship. I'm so proud to be able to provide it for you.’The scholarship comes at the end of a landmark year for Oxford University’s progress on access, which has included expanding the flagship state-school residential programme UNIQ by 50%, and the unveiling of two new initiatives; Opportunity Oxford and Foundation Oxford, which together are set to step-up the pace of change at the University, boosting the proportion of students coming to Oxford from under-represented backgrounds from 15% of the current undergraduate intake, to 25% of the annual UK undergraduate intake by 2023.

In addition to these developments, the University’s commitment to widening participation in higher education and building an inclusive and diverse university environment, is paying off. The 2018 Statistical Admissions Report revealed that more students from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds are choosing Oxford than ever before (more than 18% of 2018 undergraduate intake), and more than 60% now come from state school education.

Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, Professor Martin Williams, said: 'In 2019 Oxford University’s commitment to ensuring every academically talented student in the country knows that they have a fair chance at a place at Oxford has been clear to see.

‘Colleagues from across the University, its colleges, departments and our partners have united behind a commitment to accelerate the pace at which we are diversifying our student body. I am delighted that Arlan has chosen Oxford for this generous gift. Finance should not be a barrier to opportunity or education, and I hope that this announcement reminds Black students across the country that there are opportunities for them at the University.’

Anandana Bakshi, Director of the Oxford Foundry, added: ‘The Oxford Foundry looks forward to working with the first Scholarship recipient next year. Diversity makes sense - social sense, economic sense and progressive sense. It is vital that students from diverse backgrounds are supported to achieve their higher education goals, and are given equal and unimpeded access to opportunities, networks and resources. There are 2.4 million students studying at UK universities, and Higher Education has a pivotal role to play in empowering, nurturing and building future leaders of all cultures, backgrounds and disciplines, at all levels and across all industries.’

Esther Agbolade, an undergraduate student studying Philosophy, Politics & Economics at Oriel College, and former President of the Oxford African and Caribbean Society: ‘This is such an amazing opportunity that will help to break the glass ceiling that many Black students face when trying to access top institutions like the University of Oxford.’

Offering some final words of encouragement and inspiration to prospective applicants, Arlan said: ‘I'm all about catalysing, I always have been, but especially in the last five years, as I have had the opportunity to invest in so many people and companies. ’My message to future participants of the Oxford-Arlan Hamilton & Earline Sims scholarship, is do the best you can, and kick some butt. Then, when you go out there and create a life for yourself, please pay it forward.’