Stellenbosch University (SU) student Tessa Malan has been awarded a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford next year. The former Rhenish learner, who is completing her honours degree in Computer Science, plans to start a one-year MSc in Social Sciences of the Internet at the esteemed university in October 2024. As the scholarship is for two years of study, Malan hopes to also study an MSc in Comparative Social Policy during her time in the City of Dreaming Spires.
The fully funded two-year scholarships are awarded annually to 100 talented graduates from 30 constituencies around the world. Ten of these are allocated each year to students from the Southern African constituency, which includes South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and eSwatini. The scholarship is regarded as one of the “oldest and arguably the preeminent global fellowship programme", according to the Rhodes Trust. Nearly 1 000 graduates from Southern Africa have benefitted from the programme since the awards were first funded in 1903, and alumni include SU's Chancellor, retired Constitutional Court judge Justice Edwin Cameron.
“The Rhodes Scholarship has long been one of the most remarkable opportunities for South African students to study at Oxford University. It is also one of the most competitive and the SU community is enormously proud that Malan was recently awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. Malan is a brilliant student with a broad vision for how her scholarship can benefit society and our best wishes accompany her on this great adventure," said Prof Stan du Plessis, SU's Chief Operating Officer, and SU's ambassador for the Rhodes Trust.
For Malan, the scholarship is a welcome stepping stone to international study. “I've always wanted to study overseas and experience many different parts of the world. I might continue my studies in the Netherlands, after Oxford." Having grown up in Paarl and Stellenbosch, Malan says she is looking forward to the opportunity to experience a new place and study with people from around the world. “But beyond that, it means I can spend two years focused on learning more about the things I am really interested in and passionate about at one of the world's knowledge hubs. It's going to be a massive adventure."
Malan is confident the experience will enable her to expand on the intersectional field of information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) which she is exploring as part of her honours research at SU. She is currently working with SU's Child Language Development Node on a pilot version of a mobile application that will help collect data about early language development in young children. “I think learning about the internet from a social science perspective by studying, for example, the inequalities the internet has deepened, will equip me well." Malan would also like to explore policy related to the creation of ethical artificial intelligence and consider well-designed privacy regulations for the use of big data.
While the scholarship recognises academic excellence, it also celebrates qualities such as honesty, courage and morality. When asked to identify the characteristics that helped secured her spot at Oxford, Malan says her integrity, curiosity, and passion for the work she plans to do once she has completed her studies counted in her favour.
Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, SU Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching, said: “The Rhodes Scholarship is an extremely prestigious award, and we are immensely proud of Malan's achievements. We wish her all the best in the next sector of her academic and life journey. We are certain that this young Matie will be a fantastic ambassador for our institution and country."
When Malan is not applying her computer science skills to meaningful projects in the ICT4D sphere, she spends her time hiking or mountain biking. On her plans after Oxford, Malan says: “I want to apply my skills in South Africa at some point, but I might first keep studying and do my PhD somewhere else. I want to learn from as many different people and contexts as possible. I do however think I'll be missing the South African weather the whole time."
Photographer: Stefan Els