Eddie Ndopu, a disability rights activist, is the first African student with a disability to be accepted into Oxford University. Beginning in Michaelmas 2016, he hopes to study for a Masters in Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government on a full academic scholarship; however, he still lacks the majority of the $33,000 he needs to pay the costs for an automated wheelchair and his carer, which Oxford’s scholarship does not cover.
Ndopu told The Daily Vox, “The reason why I chose this institution was because this particular programme is the only programme in the entire world that looks at public policy through a global lens.” Applying to Oxford whilst still recovering from surgery, he claims that when he received his offer he “didn’t believe it. I thought they made a mistake, but then I realised that I am an Oxford student.”
Originally from South Africa, Ndopu was diagnosed at the age of two with spinal muscular atrophy and given until the age of five to live. Now 25, he has a degree from Carleton University, Canada, where he served as a research analyst at the World Economic Forum. He was named one of the 30 greatest thinkers under 30 by Pacific Standard Magazine and was also head of the Youth Program for Africa at Amnesty International. In 2008, he was a member of the inaugural class of the African Leadership Academy.
In his own words he describes himself as, “the guy on wheels who refuses to rest until every single disabled person in the world, until every single beautifully black and brown disabled soul gets a fighting chance at living their best life.”
However, Ndopu may find himself unable to begin study in September, as the scholarship does not account for the costs of his disability needs. In response, Ndopu’s case has attracted significant attention and the campaign #OxfordEddiecated has been set up to crowdfund the $33,000 needed to cover the costs of an automated wheelchair and for a full-time carer to accompany him.
“They [Oxford] assumed that I would able-bodied, so they did not account for the 24-hour care I will need,” Ndopu told South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, “there is no visa category for a caregiver who needs to accompany an international student with a disability because this has never happened at Oxford.”
Hannah Jones, a DPhil student at Oxford writing for gal-dem online magazine, condemned the deficit in Ndopu’s scholarship. She wrote, “Eddie has highlighted an epic flaw in [Oxford’s] scholarships: an assumption that every scholar is able-bodied. Collectively, we need to wake up and create a more inclusive academia. This is our responsibility as human beings.
“Oxford University is an astronomically wealthy institution, and Eddie’s predicament is so incredibly frustrating, because the funds clearly exist and can be sourced through dialogue and organisation between the institution and the South African government.”
Oxford University has said in a statement, “We have awarded a place on our Master of Public Policy programme which is being accompanied by a full academic scholarship. The University provides high-quality support to staff and students with disabilities to meet their needs in work and study. Oxford fulfils the legal duty to make reasonable adjustments with the utmost care.
“In this case, we are also working hard to explore financial options which can sustain the type of all-round support already being funded and provided long-term to the applicant in his home country. We welcome the determined, enterprising and creative efforts being made to fulfil the opportunity to study at Oxford by the applicant and his many friends and supporters.”