By Dr Konthoujam Khelchandra Singh
I have been undertaking a postgraduate research programme on the Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments at the Queen Mary, University of London for a duration of one year since September 2015, with scholarships provided by the Chevening secretariat.After having worked as Assistant Professor at the Department of Environmental Science, Pachhunga University College, Mizoram University, Aizawlfor more than four years, I decided to avail one year study leave for studying the above said course to expand my knowledge base in my focal research theme.I always aspire to continuously further enlarge the spectrum, knowledge of my interest in the management of freshwater environments. So, I have selected the Queen Mary University of London because of its uniqueness, central location and vibrant campus activity. It is also one of the global leading international centres for excellence in teaching and research. Let me highlight some of the important features of Chevening Scholarships.
Chevening Scholarships are the UK Government’s global scholarship programme, funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner organisations. The scholarship supports study and research at UK universities for individuals with the demonstrable potential to become future leaders, decision makers and opinion formers in their domain field. The Chevening programme began in 1983 and has developed into a prestigious international scheme. Chevening offers scholarships in 160 countries and territories worldwide and major exceptions to this are US nationals or nationals of EU countries. Most of the Chevening Scholars (96%) are from the countries eligible for official development assistance (ODA). There are over 44,000 Chevening Alumni around the world who together comprise an influential and highly regarded global network.
Chevening offers a unique opportunity for future leaders, influencers, and decision-makers from all over the world to develop professionally and academically, network extensively, experience UK culture and build lasting positive relationships with the UK.During our stay in the UK, as a Chevening scholars, we get different opportunities to take part in academic as well as non-academic related events in Britain. I want to share one of the interesting events, I took part as a Chevening Scholar from India. On 21st March 2016, I got an official invitation from Justine Allan, Deputy Head of India Foreign and Security Policy, Nepal and Bhutan Team, South Asia Department, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, UK. The invitation was regarding a reception to mark the forthcoming official visit to India and Bhutan by Their Royal Highness the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace to be held on Wednesday 6 April 2016 at 5.45 pm. In the mail, it was also mentioned that Their Royal Highnesses are keen to meet us and learn about India and Bhutan ahead of their Official visit to both countries. They will also be interested to hear about our work, studies or charity work and how that helps people in India, Bhutan and the UK. I was one among the lucky 7 to be invited to this event out of the total 50 Chevening Scholars from India. Initially, I was thinking that about 150 plus people might be attending the programme, but to my utter surprise, there were only a handful of about 23 people invited. At the Kensington Palace reception hosted by the Royal Couple Prince William and Kate Middleton- the group of people included India`s High Commissioner to the UK NavtejSarna, members of the business, charity and academic sectors and key figures from Prince Charles` Britain Asian Trust. The group also includes some Indian and Bhutanese students enrolled on the FCO`s Chevening Scholarship Programme, the UK`s international awards scheme aimed at developing global leaders.
One interesting component of Their Royal Couple visit to India is the inclusion of Northeast India in their itinerary. After visiting Mumbai and Delhi, they are visiting the KazirangaNational Park- a World Heritage Site in Assam. This will have a lot of significance to the conservation efforts being taken up by India. I got an opportunity to interact with Prince William, where I was able to highlight some of the unique features of Northeast India as a whole in comparison to mainland India. Northeast India comprising of the 8 states (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim), constitutes only 8% of the total geographical area of India and 3.1% of the total Indian population. And the region shares about 90% of its international border with the neighbouring countries like China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The region has a unique landscape and isvery rich in biodiversity. Out of the 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world, the region is endowed with 2of them namely the Eastern Himalayas and the Indo-Burma. The Duke of Cambridge was amazed to hear these exceptional features about the Northeast India.
I also got a chance to give a small briefing about the Kaziranga National Park to the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton. The Kaziranga National park hosts more than two-third of the Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) also known as Greater One-horned Rhinoceros. According to the census report carried out in March 2015, the current rhino population in Kaziranga National Park is 2,401. Rhinoceros is a huge animal, where a full grown adult will weight in the range of 2260 kg to 3000kg and has a single horn, which measures between 20 cm to 57 cm. Among the protected areas in the world, Kaziranga has the highest density of tiger population and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006. But the sighting of the tiger is very difficult due to the presence of tall grasses. Some of the other important wild animals found in the Kaziranga includes asiaticelephants, wild buffalo and swamp deer. Kaziranga is also recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Bird Life International for conservations of birds. I mention to them about the excitement of sighting the animals in the wild. So, I gave suggestion to enjoy the elephant ride inside the park so as to improve their probabilities of sighting the wild animals. They were also keen to sight especially the rhinos in the wild. The Duchess knew about the famous Assam tea and they are looking forward to tasting it during their trip to Assam. From Assam the Royal Couple will fly to Bhutan.
My Chevening journey in the United Kingdom has been a fantastic experience and this is one of such instances for which I would always love to cherish. Overall, the Chevening provided the magnificent platform for networking, acquiring new skills and knowledge well taught my world renowned academicians. In the UK, teaching and learning process allows you to develop critical thinking approaches to any issues and tackle it from global perspectives. Studying in the UK is a wonderful experience, where it allows you to strengthen your career path, meet new friends and explore the beauty of Great Britain.
(The author is a Chevening Scholar on Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments at the Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom. He can be contacted at: email@example.com)