First Cowrie Scholar excited to shine ‘positive light’

The first recipient of a Cowrie Foundation Scholarship at the University of Leicester designed to provide opportunities for talented Black British students has described her excitement at becoming a role model to a new generation of students.

Kesiah Gakpe, 19, from Ilford in East London, is the first Leicester student funded by The Cowrie Scholarship Foundation (CSF), and starts her studies of Journalism (BA) in October 2021.

The Foundation aims to fund 100 Black British students through UK universities in the next decade, a bold initiative which reflects the commitments made by President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Nishan Canagarajah to ensure that students have fair and equitable access to higher education at Leicester and that, as an institution, we play an important role in helping to address inequalities in society.

Kesiah, who achieved three A’s at A-level despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, said: “I always strive for perfection – I aim to be the best in all that I do, to prove to myself that I can do it.

“After taking a gap year, I decided Journalism was the course for me: Leicester is one of the best, so it was the best decision I could make.

“In the media, ethnic minorities – and particularly Black people – are quite under-represented, and I want to be in a space where I can accurately tell the stories of those groups who do not have the same level of representation, and work to make a change to the negative image of Black people in certain areas of the media.

“I really want to be the person who people look to and think ‘she did it, and so can I’. I want to be a positive light in my chosen industry.”

As part of The Cowrie Scholarship programme, the University will offer a full tuition fee waiver and academic support for successful undergraduate applicants, with the Foundation providing a substantial contribution towards maintenance and living costs which will be funded through philanthropic support from business and individual donors.

Professor Canagarajah added: “The University is committed to offering opportunities to students from all backgrounds to thrive at Leicester.

“Our commitment also extends to associated projects across the institution, which will help to widen access and participation, foster diversity in our student and staff community and build on the pillars of academic excellence.

“We are proud to partner with The Cowrie Scholarship Foundation in advancing our shared educational mission and values, and welcome Kesiah as the first Cowrie Scholarship recipient at Leicester.”

The initial philanthropic funding target for the Foundation is to raise £500,000 to support the first tranche of students with future plans to generate additional funds through endowments and working with University partners.

Professor Richard Oreffo, Professor of Musculoskeletal Science at the University of Southampton and Founder of The Cowrie Scholarship Foundation, a registered charity, said: “Higher education has the power to transform lives and critically, access to university should not be limited by race or social class, but unfortunately this is not the case for all in our society.

“We seek to transform disadvantaged Black British student lives through education by addressing a significant barrier: the financial cost of university education. Together with the University of Leicester this new partnership will change lives.”

The latest national figures from the National Student Survey (2020) show a disparity between satisfaction for students from an ethnic minority background compared to their white counterparts. Figures cited by Universities UK show the UK has an awarding gap – referred to elsewhere as an ‘attainment gap’ – of 13.2%.

The University of Leicester has already introduced a number of initiatives to close the awarding and satisfaction gaps, including: