Scholarships, everybody loves them. Wealthy corporations and individuals love to attach their names to them. Students love to receive them. Schools may even love them even more than the students. They play a key role in providing access to opportunities for people who would otherwise be barred from them. This does not insulate them from having negative effects though. Here are the pros and cons of scholarships.
Pros of scholarships
Provides access to education
Scholarships make education easier to access especially for people from a poor or low-income background who would otherwise be locked out of attending school. It is especially beneficial for the higher levels of education which can be really expensive for the average person.
The number of candidates who sat for KCPE in Kenya in 2019 was just over 1 million, those who sat for KCSE were just over 679 000 and those who graduated from university were 9,000. At each level, for a variety of reasons including financial constraints the numbers drop significantly. Scholarships help such students gain access to education without having to pay them back or get into any other form of debt. Being freed from the pressure of having to work while studying also improves the likelihood of students performing better and making the most of the opportunity.
Support and networks
Some scholarships don’t just offer financial or material support, they also help them make the most of the opportunity presented to them. They may offer access to certain training and courses on a variety of subjects. If the university is in a different country, some scholarships will provide resources to help with the transition to a new place, provide a ready group of friends in the form of other recipients and even have activities like touring the country and so on. All of the additional benefits support the emotional and mental health of students. Some also introduce recipients to an exclusive network of alumni and more that can help them build their careers.
Scholarships are prestigious, signifying high achievement and distinguishing recipients from the rest. In this way, they give your resume a boost and by virtue of being associated with it, even more doors open for you.
A wider range of universities
Scholarships also increase the scope of universities and schools that students can apply to. Students are able to go to schools in far-off regions, even in other countries and continents altogether because of the material support offered by the scholarship.
Cons of scholarships
Difficult to get
For a variety of reasons including stringent requirements and the extremely wide applicant pool, scholarships are extremely competitive and can be difficult to get. They have limited slots and for this reason, many students who would otherwise be deserving miss out on them.
Some scholarships have exceedingly strict demands including performance requirements or you risk losing your position. This pressure to perform and fear of losing the scholarship can be detrimental not only to performance but also to the student’s mental health. There may also be pressure to participate in scholarship-related extra-curricular activities that may be difficult to balance.
Unfair and prone to bias
Scholarships position themselves as fair and purely selected based on achievement and perhaps need. They make it seem like there are no biases involved and the selection system is a fair one. This is far from true. Internalized bias is always involved where human beings are making the choices, and this includes even when artificial intelligence (AI) designed by human beings is used. As long as we live in a capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist society that values and celebrates the wealthy and detests the poor, there will be bias and discrimination.
Then there’s the unfairness in rewarding people who are already privileged enough as it is. Many scholarships are geared at high performers. Most students who perform well are those who were in environments that already supported performing well in the first place. This means that you have a system that continues to avail opportunities to students who already have things working well for them. Sure, some students from extremely disadvantaged situations perform well and get awarded, but these students are few and far between.
Then there are those prestigious scholarships that are open even to wealthy students and students who do not need financial help. So you have a situation where already financially able students are given more while those who desperately need it are denied.
Scholarships by their very nature engender competition between students. They perpetuate this false scarcity and instead of encouraging co-operation and camaraderie between people, they encourage competition. A mindset in which in order for you to win, someone else has to lose. You encourage students to see each other as a potential hindrance to their opportunity as opposed to another comrade in a similar disadvantaged and in pursuit of a better life.
Sanitize corporations and the wealth
Scholarships and other philanthropic activities play a crucial role in sanitizing wealthy individuals and corporations that are involved in destroying lives and the world in general. Oil companies that are destroying the earth through burning fossil fuels and causing climate change sanitize their image by offering them. Soft drink companies that are buying up water aquifers and causing widespread water shortages do the same. Organizations that profited and continue to profit from exploiting people from colonialism to sweatshops use them too. Wealthy individuals contribute to such funds to elevate their public profile instead of paying their taxes and contributing to society.
Props up failed systems
Scholarships prop up a failed and unequal system. Instead of asking why something as critical as education is not free, these powerful scholarship organizations prop up inequality by offering band-aids in the form of a few scholarships. Perhaps if they did not exist, people’s focus would not be shifted from these tiny solutions and would instead stay on the complex problem that is capitalism and the inequality it entrenches. Maybe then other solutions like free education at all levels for all would be advanced and implemented.
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