UCL Campaign


Bursary Student, Shahid Janatmir explains how UCL donors are transforming lives

27 September 2017

Shahid Janatmir took an unlikely route to UCL. Growing up in rural Afghanistan, his small village school was rarely open due to financial problems, extreme weather conditions and, later, the crossfire between foreign and insurgent troops.

After his family found refuge in the UK, Janatmir discovered a passion for learning. Thanks to his hard work and dedication, and a bursary provided by Dr John Elliott, Shahid is now studying Chemical Engineering at UCL.


As a child, I lived in eastern Afghanistan with my uncles. Although I was unable to learn the fundamentals of science and maths, I formed a special bond with my cousin’s poetry books.

I would sneak into his room and steal my favourite book. It was about love, which according to him was not for 11 year-olds. Through this poetry, I learnt to read and write Pashto, the language which I had spoken for ten years.

In 2006, the schools closed permanently. The insurgency had escalated, and that’s when my father decided it was not safe for us to be there any longer. After two difficult years, our family was finally granted asylum in the UK.

United Kingdom

I started school in Derby in 2008. It was quite a challenge to adapt to the changes in culture, language, topography, and of course, the weather! Moving to the UK was the best thing that ever happened to me: it gave me a chance to explore an education completely unlike what I had experienced on the other side of the planet. I managed to do well in my GCSEs despite studying at a school which, at the time, had a pass rate of 28%.

Bursary impacts

When it came to applying for universities, the only option for me was to choose one which offered funding and support. Because of my family’s financial situation, my dreams of studying at UCL were as precarious as a broken chair with two legs: I was in dire need of a third leg in order to stand strong. Thankfully, this came in the shape of an offer from UCL’s scholarships and bursaries department.

My bursary, generously provided by Dr John Elliott, has benefitted me in multiple ways. It means that I don’t have to juggle multiple jobs at once, and can instead focus on my studies. This also frees up time for me to visit schools and colleges around London through the STEM Ambassadors’ programme, inspiring the next generation of students.

Crucially, the bursary has also enabled me to volunteer with organisations such as Royal Society of Chemistry, the NHS and local community centres in Derby. In these centres I help students from disadvantaged backgrounds with their UCAS applications and personal statements. I was once one of these students and I know first-hand the difficulties they are currently enduring in a very important phase of their life.

There is a saying that education transforms everybody who wishes to acquire it. This certainly holds true for me. I have become intellectual, and have learned the scientific foundations which underlie what I observe. Unfortunately many motivated students are not given this privilege because of financial hurdles. With the help of UCL’s donors, more stories like mine are being told, and more lives like mine are being changed.