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Esther Joyce Ariokot

LLM International Economic Law (Intensive – Justice and Development)

While she initially questioned her chances of being selected for the School of Law’s Patrick McAuslan scholarship, Ugandan native Esther Ariokot couldn’t let the opportunity pass her by.

Having graduated with an LLB at the Uganda Christian University (UCU), then a postgraduate diploma in Legal Practice at the Law Development Centre, Kampala, Birkbeck’s LLM in International Economic Law seemed the ideal stepping stone to propel her into the next level of her career. It also clicked with the work she had been doing as a court mediator and a volunteer helping juvenile offenders find their way back on the right path.

‘The course had a lot in it that was connected to what I was working on as a lawyer in Uganda. A lot connected to “alleviation from poverty”,’ Esther said.

‘During my time working back home, I came to realise that most people were committing crimes because they were poor, and here was a course that was not only connected to what I was experiencing, but one that was offering solutions. I realised it would give me the skills I needed to help these people back home.’

Finding out that she had been selected as the first recipient of the scholarship is a happy memory that the 27-year-old can still remember very well.

‘I was so excited and happy, especially due to the fact it had been so competitive. I just thought “Oh My God, this is an opportunity that can’t be found anywhere else”,’ she said.

The scholarship was set up in 2014 to commemorate the late Prof Patrick McAuslan, a founding member of the School who had worked for a time in Africa. Offering free entry to the LLM programme – plus offering a subsistence of £5,000 on top – the scholarship opportunity is tailored for candidates who will flourish within an intensive academic environment.

‘The speed of the intensive course, being done in six months, is a real motivator,’ Esther explained.

‘Sometimes, when you are getting weary, you think “it’s only six months, don’t give up”. It’s something that helps keep you on track, as does the fact you’re not doing this alone. Your fellow students are going through it too, and I found that we kept in regular touch via email, phone calls and things like LinkedIn.’

While the programme is designed to only require four weeks of in-country, face-to-face contact time, Esther was able to stay in the UK for the majority of her time on the course, having been housed by a host family who she met through her church in Uganda. This allowed her to make full use of Birkbeck’s facilities throughout her studies, such as the library in which Esther found more than enough resources for her dissertation project – a topic of investigation which again sprung out of her interest in human rights.

‘When I first received information about the modules, one particularly stood out - the one on “Risks, Rights and Responsibilities”,’ she said.

‘When I came to study this module in the last two weeks of the course, it was everything I imagined. It met all my expectations and even more. They were very interactive classes, with great presentations and external speakers. It was a very interesting module.

‘From the beginning, I had an idea that my dissertation would be something to do with this module, and I ended up finding my topic - human rights and the HIV African epidemic. I’m really interested in studying how human rights laws can support people in an epidemic, and to look at the international and national responses.

Now finished her studies at Birkbeck, and safely back home in Uganda, does Esther feel her career ambitions are being met?

‘I’m definitely getting there. I really have this passion to work with vulnerable communities, and having done this course, it’s great to feel I can answer these people’s questions from all aspects. I feel I know how to advise them.

‘I want to work in the NGO world, working with communities such as refugees and juveniles – any vulnerable community. That’s my thing. Once I see the job, I’ll know. It’s just like this course – when I saw the email about the LLM at Birkbeck, I said “this is it!”’

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‘I just thought “Oh My God, this is an opportunity that can’t be found anywhere else”.’