Tunku Scholarship is back

Supportive presence: Chua is the director of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Fund in Cambridge University.

THE thought of being accepted into Cambridge University in the United Kingdom may seem far-fetched to most students.

But from Dr Liana Chua’s vantage point, there is always a possibility for one to not only gain entry, but also to earn a scholarship to pursue one’s postgraduate studies there – that is, if one works hard enough.

“Don’t be intimidated by the whole thing: someone’s got to get into Cambridge and take up these scholarships!” said the director of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Fund when asked her advice to potential applicants of the Tunku Scholarship, which is now open for application.

“But do put serious work into your application. The admissions process is competitive, and you need to demonstrate your knowledge, passion and enthusiasm to your potential teachers and mentors,” she added in an email interview with StarEdu.

The Fund provides one scholarship each year to enable an academically outstanding Malaysian student to undertake research leading to a master’s or doctoral degree in the arts, humanities and social sciences at St. Catharine’s College in Cambridge University.

It was set up in 2003 by the government to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, the first prime minister, who received his undergraduate degree, his honorary doctorate in law, and an honorary fellowship from the college in Cambridge.

According to Chua, the Tunku Fund has supported 27 talented Malaysian graduate students since 2004.

“They’ve worked in different arts, humanities and social science subjects on a whole range of topics including counter-terrorism, affirmative action, anti-colonial nationalism, education and the economics of religion – and that’s just from the last few years,” she said.

“I’ve had fun meeting current and recent scholars and hearing about their experiences, aspirations and career paths – they have gone into academia, teaching, law, policy work, consulting and the non-profit sector, among other things,” she added.

What these conversations bring home, Chua shared, are, first, how much these scholars gained from the intellectual spaces and connections that Cambridge offered, and second, how deeply they care about Malaysia, to which many of them have returned. “They’re absolute stars,” she said.

Apart from her role as the director of the Fund, Chua is the first Tunku Abdul Rahman University lecturer in Malay World Studies at St. Catharine’s College – with her lectureship fully funded by the Fund.

“It’s an incredibly interesting role. It’s a wonderful new bridge between Cambridge, Malaysia and the rest of maritime South-East Asia,” she said of her appointment last year. “The college has also just launched a new fund – the Bowring Fund – which supports research into the history, geography or culture of the Malay World.

“This is open to the college members of any nationality, including Malaysians. So I think we’re on track to getting a proper, small community of Malay World specialists here, which is pretty exciting,” she said.

In Cambridge University, “Malay World” encompasses the history, culture, literature, and politics of areas where the Malay language historically formed a lingua franca.

Besides contemporary Malaysia, this region includes Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei, with substantial and deep historical connections to Timor, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

“I’m privileged to have this amazing opportunity to develop Malay World Studies in Cambridge and the UK, and build up more connections and collaborations with the region I grew up in,” said the social anthropologist from Singapore. One priority for Chua is to continue and expand the work of the Fund.

“I’m keen to extend its reach, to encourage talented students from all backgrounds and parts of Malaysia to apply.

“I’d also like to be more of a supportive presence for Tunku scholars who are already here – for example, by connecting them with former scholars or academics, or just being around for when they need advice,” she said.

A second priority is to gradually turn Cambridge into an academic hub for Malay World Studies that will bring students, academics and other interested parties such as policymakers and journalists into dialogue and collaboration, she said.

“I’m starting to put together book talks, seminars and other events, and am developing visiting academic opportunities with partners in the region.

“For me, it’s vital that Malay World Studies features voices, theories and analyses from the region. There’s so much important work going on in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere that academics in the Global North don’t engage with, and this is one way of changing that,” she said.

Looking further ahead, she has plans to consolidate, or at least better connect, the teaching of Malay World Studies across the university.

“We’ve got regional specialists scattered across different departments and faculties, but no single region-focused course or degree.

“Depending on what the higher education landscape looks like in the coming years, I’d love to develop a new cross-disciplinary course or set of options with Malay World Studies, or South-East Asian Studies more broadly, at its heart.” she shared.

For more information about the Tunku Scholarship, go to: www.caths.cam.ac.uk/tunku-scholarships. The deadline for application is March 31.Charis, 19, a student in Kuala Lumpur, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. Throughout the year-long programme, participants aged between 14 and 22 from all across the country experience life as journalists, contributing ideas, conducting interviews, and completing writing assignments. They get to earn bylines, attend workshops, and extend their social networks. To join Star-NiE’s online youth community, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

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