A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE VNEF
Lady Vicky Noon set up the Viqarunnissa Noon and Firoz Khan Noon Educational Foundation in 1992 to help Pakistani scholars to study abroad, and to reinforce the links between Pakistan and the other country where she felt most at home, Britain.
Her husband, like many other prominent Pakistanis of his time, had benefited from study at Oxford or Cambridge. However, for various reasons, over the years the numbers of Pakistanis going to these
pre-eminent British Universities declined. It had become more fashionable to study in the United States, where access seemed easier and internal scholarships more readily available.
Lady Noon hoped that her financial support would encourage some of the most able Pakistani students to maintain the tradition of studying at Oxford or Cambridge.
The Board of Trustees first met in 1992 under the Chairmanship of the Hon. William Grosvenor, with Lady Vicky Noon present. Other Trustees were drawn from close friends and associates of Lady Noon and her sister, Mrs Amy Ledsam. The terms were set and a number of awards were made each year.
Dr Humayun Khan, a former High Commissioner in London, took over as Chairman in the mid 1990s. When his term as Director of the Commonwealth Foundation ended and he returned to Pakistan, the Chairmanship passed to Dr. Paul Flather, Director of International Affairs at Oxford, whose great-great-grandfather, Sir Ganga Ram, had been a much respected engineer and benefactor in Lahore.
Other Trustees currently have included a former British High Commissioner in Islamabad, members of the Noon family, an eminent Oxford Professor who was the widow of the Pakistani Nobel Prize winner Dr Abdus Salam, and the former Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
From the beginning, the Trustees have met each summer to select a number of award recipients from those who have already secured admission to Oxford or Cambridge and who meet the criteria established by Lady Noon. Those who have already studied in the West are normally excluded, evidence of financial need is sought, and to ensure a fair assessment, applicants are asked to set out on paper their plans and aspirations not only for their period of study, but for afterwards. A good command of English is assumed.
The Foundation operates with minimum overheads. It is keen that its existence is known in appropriate quarters, but relies on the two Universities, and supporters in Pakistan, to help screen lists of candidates so that they are manageable.
Increasingly, over the past 10 years, the Foundation has sought to extend the impact of its support by developing new partnerships with other funding bodies. In Cambridge it works very closely with the Cambridge Commonwealth European and International Trust, founded by Anil Seal and now under the direction of Helen Pennant.
In Oxford, it originally co-operated with the Oxford University Press; it now does so with the University’s Clarendon Foundation, which is backed by OUP. For about ten years (until the financial crash of 2008), the Foundation also worked in partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Chevening Scholarship scheme, and since 2002, with the Open Society Institute of Mr George Soros, under its programme to provide study opportunities for leading young Muslim scholars. The Oxford and Cambridge Society of Karachi has also taken the initiative to provide some additional matching funding for undergraduate awards.
Occasionally, awards are made for PhD students, though only for 3 years of support. Annual support is around £80,000, following a further legacy left to the Trust in Vicky Noon’s will. Taking into account the links and cooperation with other funding bodies, this unlocks some £200,000+ of bursary support each year. Other funding partners have helped to extend this support further.
The Foundation remains keen to keep in touch with past beneficiaries. In 2004-5 the trustees conducted a survey, repeated in 2015, of all past scholars. Almost 50 per cent were reached. About one third were back in Pakistan, while another third were still in higher education. A more detailed analysis is on the website. We hope to reach the missing Noon Scholars in future years to assess their progress.
A number of Trustees visited Pakistan in 2005, taking part in successful gatherings kindly hosted by local friends and supporters in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore. This was a chance to spread the word about the work of the VNEF and to meet former scholars. It is hoped to repeat such a visit in the near future.
The Foundation has supported some 200 Noon Scholars, including MPhil students on two year programmes, PhD students on three year programmes, and undergraduates, some on four-year programmes. The Trustees look forward to supporting many more in future years.