The Davis Scholar Program – A Brain Drain?

by Petter Hallqvist, UWC Red Cross Nordic
20th April, 2018

[aesop_content color=”#000000″ background=”#ffffff” component_width=”600px” columns=”1″ position=”none” imgrepeat=”no-repeat” disable_bgshading=”off” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]The Davis Scholars programme is of huge importance to UWC. It does not only play the role of supporting students in need, but also legitimizes the value of a UWC education in the eyes of universities. But this collaboration is not a one-sided, singular gain. We must recognize the fact that as we are given financial support, we are expected to give something in return.
A few nights before my mock exam in English Language and Literature, myself and two friends were having a discussion about Mohsin Hamid’s
The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The book follows the journey of Changez, a Pakistani Princeton graduate entering work life in America, and his gradual realization of assimilation into American culture which meant that he was indirectly fighting his own culture. In simple words, his connection in the US becomes two-faced. This triggered me to question the position the Davis Scholars Programme puts us in. What price are we paying for all the benefits we receive?
Davis-UWC Scholar Programme supported 830 UWC alumni in the Class of 2021, in total it has provided a foundation for the higher education of 8,569 UWC alumni. It must be said that these numbers are incredible, and I would like to extend my gratitude to Shelby Davis for allowing hundreds of students attend university that otherwise would not be able to. Of the 2170 students graduating in 2017, almost 40% entered into the programme (assuming that the number of students on gap years are fairly consistent over time) and hence now studies in the US. This means that 40% of our student’s study, and many remain, in a country representing 4% of the world’s population. We must acknowledge the fact that thanks to the Davis Scholar Programme, UWC has become a direct feeder into the US college system. Indirectly, Davis creates a brain drain from the rest of the world.
One of the expressed aims of the Davis Programme is to
“Help transform the American undergraduate experience through international diversity and intercultural exchange – as much for the large majority of traditional American students as for the scholars.” I firmly believe international understanding is crucial for all people, including those outside the UWC movement. I see how this is positive in terms of allowing international underprivileged representation enter into that sphere, potentially highlighting issues around the world. However, does Davis prevent other parts of the world from benefiting from UWC students?
Another angle is to consider what it means for us. To me, it is evident that Shelby Davis sees the UWC international experience as valuable. The question I would like to ask him is: Why the US? Does he believe the US is the best place for UWC students to continue growing through education? In my eyes, I see Davis as trying to support UWC as a good cause, but also giving back to his own community, the US. As UWC students, we learn to question power hierarchies of gender, ethnicity and social class all around the world. In this spirit, we need to question whether the American education and society is one we would like to endorse singularly. While exploring this argument, we must consider what “American culture” we are considering. The US is an incredibly diverse country, but what I am considering is mostly the prestigious educational environments, which are “partner institutions” with the Davis Scholar Program. With no doubt, the world sees many of these institutions as the most highly regarded and respected. However, we must consider the fact that Davis might just be perpetuating Americanism, the notion that the US is superior to other countries in general. Furthermore, what does it mean for the UWC movement to become so US-centric? Undoubtedly, whichever environment we spend time in influences us as people. Just look at what being at UWC did to you as a person. With this in mind, what would happen to the UWC movement if a proportional majority of students were educated in an American environment? I would argue that this would severely hurt the deliberate diversity that provides a cornerstone of us being an international organisation looking for a global impact. Though Shelby Davis has given us immense amounts of opportunities, the fact that they are not diverse enough limits the scope of worldwide spread of UWC.
If we want to be the global movement we strive for we must be deliberate in the opportunities we provide for our alumni, otherwise we remain a collection of international high-schools teaching the IB. To be a movement standing for our values we need to have a final impact in the regions that need it the most. We allow our National Committees to cherry-pick the best fitting students for good reasons, because we think these people will be able to contribute – give back to society through the knowledge and experiences gained. But pouring all of this value into the US, a country which already has many of the privileges people around the world lack, we are also disproportionately allocating our resources away from the underdeveloped regions which need the most support.
One could make many counterarguments to this including, interconnection and globalization allows positive impact to spread easily, that economic forces like remittances play huge roles in underdeveloped regions, that we need the high-quality of education the US provides, or even that “to change a system of inequity, one needs to infiltrate that system”. Addressing these points briefly, I firstly want to point out that bringing about positive change in a certain region or group of people will be much more effective through a complete immersion leading to understanding and empathy as motivating factors. Hands-on, close-contact work in regions we should be supporting is necessary for their improvement. Secondly, incredible education can be found on every continent. It is simply not true that American Universities are our only option. Thirdly, whichever system we choose to enter, it will impact our values, our personality and our actions. A great example is the two years of indoctrination we get from UWC, prompting me to write this article – with benefit of the system in mind. So will whichever environment we choose to spend time in, especially the education of our time, as I would argue it teaches us to conform to the system that is our society. By all going to university in the US, the UWC movement is limiting its scope of understanding the problems all around the world and how to solve them. In this way, Shelby Davis has a huge say in what impact we ultimately have as a movement, and where that impact is.
I fully recognize how incredibly valuable Shelby Davis has been, is, and will be to the UWC community, but ultimately we need to be careful about our integrity. This is not an issue so much of damage and destruction as it is of limiting the possible impact we could have. UWC needs to be much better at actively promote connections and opportunities for in other areas of the world. Simply looking at the political development in the US, I think the travel ban makes a great example why we need to diversify our portfolio. As of this moment, the UWC movement as a whole is too dependent on the Davis Foundation, which means we are forced to play by their rules and potentially suffer the consequences in the future. But looking at this from a positive perspective, Davis saw the value in UWC as a movement. Hence, there must be many other people with incredible influence and resources at their disposal, who would happily support us. It is up to us to find these people.
What I will take with me as I graduate, and what I think we all need to consider is what we do with the things we have been given. We need to find other sources of support in order to democratise the movement we all know has such great value. And whether that is giving a small donation, spreading the word of UWC, or using your contacts to try and establish new opportunities and sources of funding, it does not matter. We are growing in size, but unless we mobilise our over 60,000 alumni to actually help other people and each other, we revert to a series of international high-schools teaching the IB. Not an international, deliberately diverse movement with positive impact around the globe.



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