Want to pursue a great education but need financial support? For many years the Aga Khan Education Board’s (AKEB,I) Tertiary Scholarship Programme (TSP) has helped support the hopes and aspirations of students from the India Jamat. Three TSP alumni share their story on how the scholarship programme has helped bridge the gap between dreams and reality.

“One might my think my journey to IIT, Kharagpur started in the early 2000s. But let me tell you, it started when Mawlana Hazar Imam introduced the word ‘meritocracy’ to the India Jamat way back in 1992. I was barely a month old at the time but since then my father swore to himself that whatever my career path might be, it had to be from the best institutes in India”, says Sahil Sorathiya, a TSP alum. Originally from Gondia, Sahil won the TSP to pursue his engineering degree at IIT Kharagpur. The rest as they say, is history.

Sahil Sorathiya, Azim Dinani and Anisha Khiyani are just a few among the many recipients of AKEB,I’s Tertiary Scholarship Programme (TSP). While their stories could not be more different; one common thread unites them: the decision to leave their home towns in search of the best possible education; and their ability to persevere in spite of challenging circumstances.

Every year AKEB,I provides a limited number of scholarships to outstanding undergraduate students, who have no other means of financing their education. Scholarships are awarded on a 50% grant: 50% loan basis, the payback period for which is five years, starting six months after the student graduates.

But before you apply to TSP, you have to land an offer of admission; and in country where lakhs compete for a few hundred seats; that’s always a challenge. For Sahil to be accepted at IIT, he followed a rigorous academic schedule; studying 15 (sometimes 17) hours a day, relentlessly working towards achieving an all India 671 rank that helped him land a seat at IIT.

But when the admission came through tragedy struck. Sahil’s father met with an unfortunate accident during the crucial year of his admission. That’s when TSP stepped in. “I never gave up”, says Sahil. “I put in hours of research and applications for every scholarship I could find”, he says. His never-give-up attitude not only got him to IIT, it also landed him different roles in leading startups across the country. He was part of Flipkart, Meesho and Aasan.

Sahil’s determination is shared by many other TSP alumni; all of whom remain driven and confident that the returns on their education will offset the long struggle to get there.

“I know what I will earn in a month at the end of my four years of graduation will be equal to six months of my family income, if not more”, says Azim currently interning with Upkey, a Chicago based education company while completing his second year of engineering at National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli.

Azim took up engineering after the 12th grade. His enthusiasm for the subject went far beyond the classroom. “The internet has been my biggest teacher”, says Azim. “Since I started college, I invested in data packs and watched videos of every lesson or subject that interested me. I embraced everything new beyond the ambit of what’s considered conventional”, he says.

Indeed, breaking convention is nothing new for Anisha Khiyani, another TSP alum. Originally from Mundra, Anisha grew up seeing many of her friends get married soon after they turned 18. As an aspiring designer, Anisha shelved her dreams to pursue design school because of the exorbitant price tag. Instead, she moved to Anand to pursue her undergraduate degree in engineering.

But her love for the field of design stayed on, and soon after she graduated she applied and landed a seat at the National Institute of Design (NID). She funded her Masters with her savings, the TSP and a scholarship awarded by the college for her outstanding performance in Semester one.

Now, after having graduated, Anisha has founded her own company called Organic Symmetry, an Apparel & Lifestyle brand. She believes that pursuing her dreams has made a huge difference to her family's life. "Education is undoubtedly the best investment my family made. Not an expenditure, but an investment", reiterates Anisha. During the early days of the pandemic when people were struggling to sustain themselves, Anisha sold over 80,000 designer cloth masks across the world.

"We live in a much more beautiful house, my mother has house help- something we never saw or imagined growing up, and my parents can now sit back and relax”, she says, proud of the fact that she is able to financially support her family.

None of these amazing stories would have taken shape without TSP; and its alumni and students remain committed to giving back to the programme. “Once I repay my loan I want to contribute 50% of my grant to TSP”, says Anisha. “My hope is that another deserving student gets a fair shot at quality education the way I did. It’s my way of giving back and hoping that another family improves their quality of life.”