Gates Cambridge celebrates 20 years

  • October 1, 2020
Gates Cambridge celebrates 20 years

The scholarship programme is celebrating its 20th anniversary over the next academic year.

"The Gates Scholarship programme will build on the successes of its first 20 years to ensure that international graduate students at Cambridge University are equipped to meet the health, financial and climate challenges that the world faces."

Professor Barry Everitt

2020 marks the 20th anniversary of Gates Cambridge – one of the world’s most sought after awards. 

The scholarship programme was established in 2000 after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $210 million to the University of Cambridge to fund an international postgraduate scholarship programme for students who are academically outstanding, and show a strong commitment to improving the lives of others and a capacity for leadership. It remains the largest single donation to a UK university.

Since the first cohort of Gates Cambridge Scholars in 2001, over 1,500 scholars have been selected from over 100 countries. The vast majority have pursued PhDs with subjects ranging across the disciplines. It is very much scholar-centred, with the Gates Cambridge Scholars Council at its heart. 

Human rights lawyer Jennifer Gibson, one of the first cohort of scholars who helped found the Council, says: “It’s a scholarship that you can make your own. It felt like we could create a real multicultural space for international friendships around a shared belief that the scholarship was more than a pay cheque, that it had a bigger purpose.”

Anniversary celebrations

This year’s anniversary celebrations will include a host of virtual events, from Festival panel discussions to alumni gatherings and filmed discussions on topics ranging from climate change to human rights to a 20th anniversary lecture, extended interviews with one scholar from each of the 20 years, articles in university publications, a special edition of The Scholar magazine and scholar-led films.

The aim is to both look back at the impact the scholarship programme has had – and the year has launched with an article on that impact on the university’s website – and to a look forward to what the next years might hold and the potential of those scholars currently in residence, including the 2020 cohort who have just arrived in Cambridge.

Global research, global challenges

The anniversary comes just after the sad death of one of the scholarship’s greatest champions.  Bill Gates Sr, whose contribution to and passion for Gates Cambridge is marked by the Bill Gates Sr Prize, an annual award by which scholars honour the contribution made by a peer, was a Trustee and regular visitor to Cambridge. He was once asked “What makes you speechless?” in an interview and replied: “My trips to Cambridge to meet Gates Cambridge Scholars.” He described the programme as “awesome” and said the time he spent with Gates Scholars in Cambridge was “a week that I cherish greatly”.

The Provost, Professor Barry Everitt said: “It is a privilege to lead Gates Cambridge which has firmly established itself on the international stage as a scholarship programme that supports academically exceptional students through the formational years of graduate research and study. They are further characterised by a strong desire to give back to society and take a leading role in improving the lives of others, whatever their sphere of work and influence. Never has that commitment and research without borders been more prescient as we face health, climate and financial challenges. The Gates Scholarship programme will build on the successes of its first 20 years to ensure that international graduate students at Cambridge University are equipped to meet those challenges.”

Stephen Toope, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and Chair of the Gates Cambridge Trustees, said: “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s gift to the University of Cambridge 20 years ago remains the single most generous to a UK university. By emphasising the importance of international collaboration and research excellence to create a better world, it has truly been a game changer for the University of Cambridge. We are immensely proud of how Gates Cambridge Scholars are at the forefront of addressing the world’s greatest global challenges. Through their leadership and expertise, Gates Cambridge Scholars have already had a considerable impact on the world over the past 20 years. I am confident that in the next 20 years and beyond new cohorts will continue to exert a positive influence as they seek to improve the lives of others.”

*You can follow all the 20th anniversary celebrations on #gatescambridge20

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