US entrepreneur sets up Oxford scholarship for black UK students

Arlan Hamilton grant to cover costs for undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds

A Silicon Valley entrepreneur is to fund Oxford university’s first dedicated scholarship for disadvantaged black British students, the university has announced.

Arlan Hamilton, the founder of Backstage Capital, which specialises in supporting startups by overlooked groups, is to donate more than £200,000 to establish the fund and pay the tuition fees and living expenses for a three-year undergraduate degree.

The Oxford-Arlan Hamilton and Earline Butler Sims scholarship, named in part as a living tribute to Hamilton’s mother, will be open to UK undergraduates of black African and Caribbean heritage who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“I just really want someone who didn’t, or wouldn’t, have had the opportunity to go to this university, to do so. I want them to be truly nurtured and able to focus on themselves, instead of worrying about the things that, perhaps, I have had to worry about in the past – like how you are going to pay your rent,” Hamilton said after announcing the scholarship.

“I know it is going to be very competitive because there are so many wonderful, talented people in the UK. But I also know, the person who receives it will truly want and deserve it. I can’t wait to meet the first student who will be the beneficiary of the scholarship.”

Hamilton’s contribution follows that of the British musician Stormzy’s funding of two more scholarships for black British students to attend the University of Cambridge, suggesting elite universities are happy for private donors to provide targeted support for disadvantaged students rather than fund them from their own endowments.

The Oxford scholarship will include a grant of £3,000 to enable the student to take internships and enhance their employability, as well as the opportunity to work with the Oxford Foundry, the university’s student entrepreneurship centre.

Hamilton said she decided to fund the scholarship after being invited to speak at the Oxford Foundry earlier this year and taken on a tour of the university.

“I walked around, and I just saw this beautifully manicured campus, and so many college grounds. And I thought about the history, and how wonderful it must be to study here,” Hamilton said.

“I saw some black people – more than I was expecting, but not as many as I would have liked. I found out more about the thoughtful work that Oxford are doing to widen access for all students and boost inclusion, and by the end of that 45-minute tour I said out loud: ‘I want to start a scholarship for black students at Oxford.’”

Ana Bakshi, the director of the Oxford Foundry, said: “Diversity makes sense – social sense, economic sense and progressive sense.

“It is vital that students from diverse backgrounds are supported to achieve their higher education goals, and are given equal and unimpeded access to opportunities, networks and resources.”

Hamilton did not go to university but, after starting out as a music tour manager, moved to San Francisco to set up Backstage Capital, which is “dedicated to minimising funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are people of colour, women, and/or LGBT”. Since 2015, Backstage has invested more than $7m (£5.3m) in 120 startups.

Hamilton said she would also fund similar scholarships at Dillard University, the historically black university in New Orleans attended by her mother.


Richard Adams Education editor

The GuardianTramp

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