Aid worker wins VC's Graduating Student Award 2018

“There were moments when I considered not carrying on with the MA, but it seemed the staff were not prepared to allow that. I think that's testament to what the University stands for - if the student has the abilities, then the university will draw them out and elevate the individual."

Richard Bretherick, MA International Policy and Diplomacy

A Staffordshire University graduate and humanitarian aid worker overseas has spoken of his delight at receiving the Vice-Chancellor’s Graduating Student Award 2018.

Richard Bretherick, 49, originally from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire studied the MA International Policy and Diplomacy degree by distance learning while working as South Sudan Country Director for the Mentor Initiative, a non-governmental organisation which works to fight tropical diseases like malaria.

Richard was one of six students shortlisted to receive the Vice Chancellor’s annual award, which is announced each year during the summer graduation ceremonies. He said: “My initial feeling when nominated was one of some amazement. Now that I have won the award, I am somewhat overwhelmed. It seems odd to me, having gone through the MA course while working in South Sudan and Central African Republic, that I reached a standard deemed worthy of an award. I consider this to be my finest academic achievement.”

Announcing her decision, Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes said: "Richard is a fine example of how our University connects across the world - studying in South Sudan while undertaking massive challenges in his work and life. Like so many of our students he has overcome adversity and achieved great things, also sharing his learning with his peer group and staff.”

Richard has lived, studied and worked in several countries over the last 20 years including Indonesia, Australia, Turkey, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. Due to work commitments, he was unable to attend his graduation ceremony, although this father Jack collected the award on his behalf.

He said: “In 2014 I took a job in South Sudan as a humanitarian aid worker. I realised that if I was to progress I would need a postgrad qualification. The clinching factor was that I was living in a hut in a very remote village with very little to do in the evenings - alone with no electricity, no running water, no distractions, so I decided that it would be wise to fill my time reading and studying as a way of furthering myself personally and holding on to my sanity.”

Richard said the challenge of working in a pressurised environment and studying was draining at times but the University went to great lengths to get study materials to him and he felt supported throughout. “There were moments when I considered not carrying on with the MA, but it seemed the staff were not prepared to allow that. I think that's testament to what the University stands for - if the student has the abilities, then the university will draw them out and elevate the individual.

“I frequently contract malaria, and on one occasion needed the intervention of my tutor when it looked like I might fall behind. Additionally, on one occasion I evacuated my base in the north of Central African Republic when it came under attack, taking my study materials with me. I sheltered in a UN military base five hours away for one week. The UN commander allowed me access to his internet so that I could continue posting in the weekly seminars. It's feasible, you just have to find a way.”

Richard said the course had also helped his professional development and to spend more time listening to others and analyzing. “The content of my modules on the MA International Policy & Diplomacy actually coincided with my working life, so I had a much greater appreciation of issues behind the problems I was facing on a daily basis when dealing with refugees and displaced persons.”

Richard, who has a 12 year old daughter, is now planning his return to his native West Yorkshire in September.

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