Imagine the joy and excitement of getting a full scholarship from a US university. Last year, this dream came true for 104 international students accepted for University of Texas at Tyler. They began gratefully accepting Tyler’s Presidential Scholarships, withdrawing and rejecting the rest of their university offers. With enthusiasm, they began applying for visas, sharing the good news with friends and family.
What happened next was unprecedented. The university wrote to 61 of these students, all from Nepal, advising them that their scholarships had been revoked “due to extraordinary demand.”
Due to the scale, scope, and timing of the scholarship revocation, all 61 Nepali students now had nowhere to go. Rupesh Koirala was one of these students. His is a typical profile: scoring in the top 1% on the engineering entrance exam, he gave up a scholarship at the Institute of Engineering in Nepal, to accept an offer to study at the University of Texas at Tyler. With his full scholarship cancelled, he now did not have a university to attend.
To seek help and support, students travelled to the EducationUSA office in Kathmandu, where advisor Selena Malla posted an urgent message on social media, calling on the international community for support. At UWCSEA, East Campus University Advisor Joan Liu stepped forward to leverage her networks to mobilise additional ad-hoc counselling support for the students, and 40 high school counsellors from 20 countries responded, including UWC Thailand, UWC Mahindra and UWC ISAK Japan. UWCSEA colleagues Niki Dinsdale, Patrick Desbarats and Shruti Tewari all volunteered their expertise to help resolve this very difficult situation. Through extensive efforts in outreach, leveraging social media to its fullest, counsellors were able to find 57 of the 61 impacted students.
Our University Advisors advocate for UWCSEA students as part of our university advising programme. For our students, this process spans several years; in this instance counsellors squeezed what would normally be a one-year admissions cycle into 12 weeks, running virtual information sessions on higher education systems and scholarships schemes in countries including Canada, Brunei, Japan, and the Netherlands. As Patrick said, “The hardest part was the immediacy of the situation. We did not know the students very well so it was challenging to properly advise students about college choices.”
As news of this situation spread through the higher education community, universities from the US, Canada, Netherlands, Qatar, Hong Kong, and Indonesia came forward to offer seats, pulling together last minute funding in an effort to support these students. Through extensive outreach efforts, online meetings, a Facebook advising group, and hundreds of emails, there was incremental daily progress. The College of Idaho was one of the first to come forward. Brian Bava, VP of Enrollment and a UWC-USA alumnus, made an exception even though the admissions cycle had finished and offered three seats to the Nepali students, “They’re risk takers, leaders—these are the types of people you want in a campus community.”
Shruti helped Sumit Acharya navigate an accelerated admissions process, to matriculate at College of Idaho as a freshman in 2018. She is currently still supporting Kanchan Thapa through the process of applying to universities in Canada, and observed, “The news had a very significant emotional impact on the students. It was important … to provide a support system, to help them navigate their options, and show them that no matter what life throws at anyone there are other opportunities waiting to be found. It’s the same advice and emotional support we give to UWCSEA students.”
Today, 53 of the 61 Nepali students have found new universities in Canada, US, Nepal, Qatar, and South Korea. Against all odds, half have received full scholarships.
Niki helped one of two Nepali students reach Quest University in Canada on a scholarship. When asked why, Niki says, “I’m the first person in my family to go to university. I know first hand that the experience is transformative. I live in Singapore, have a fantastic job and all of this is because I went to university. I am very lucky and I think there is an obligation for all of us lucky ones to look at where we can pass on that good fortune.”
Joan agrees, “I had a 10th grade teacher who said, ‘When faced with someone else’s dilemma, someone else’s problem, it matters not what happens to you if you get involved, but rather what happens to them if you do not.’ We should not be bystanders when we have the expertise, skill, and resources to help. This is at the heart of the UWC mission.”