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Canterbury Master's student to become Rhodes Scholar at Oxford

04 November 2022

A University of Canterbury Master's student in Mathematics is among the three New Zealand students chosen to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University.


Dame Cindy Kiro, Elliott Hughes and Distinguished Professor Dame Jane Harding

Elliott Hughes, aged 22 and from Christchurch, will be studying for a Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics.

He is currently at the University of Canterbury (UC) studying for a Master of Mathematical Sciences in Mathematics and Statistics, majoring in Computational and Applied Mathematics, having previously completed a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and Statistics, majoring in Mathematics and Economics, at the university.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality Education Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality Education

Ironically, he hasn’t always loved maths, however he credits UC with sparking his love of the subject.

“At the end of high school, I took part in the STAR programme, so UC was the natural choice to continue my studies. Participating in STAR really smoothed the transition to university study and helped me get off on the right foot,” Elliott says.

“There are so many people I'd like to thank that I can't possibly name them all. I'd particularly like to thank those who supported my application – through advice, letters of reference, practice interviews, etc – and my supervisors, who put up with me spending time on this scholarship rather than my thesis! I'd also like to thank the 100-level teaching team in the Mathematics department, who rekindled my enthusiasm for a subject I disliked in high school.”

At the University of Canterbury, his awards and scholarships have included a Senior Scholarship for the top students in his year across the university continuing to postgraduate study, and three Mathematics and Statistics Scholarships.

Elliott is looking forward to studying at Oxford “because I believe mathematics offers a powerful suite of tools for understanding the world. Further education at Oxford will equip me with the knowledge I need to use these tools to tackle some of the hardest problems facing society. Beyond my academic goals, the Rhodes Scholarship appeals to me because it will enable me to meet people from diverse backgrounds who share my passion to improve the world”.

Elliott is particularly focused on “the urgent need to find the right combination of political will, economic investment and technological development to halt climate change and eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels”.

His concern for the environment is also reflected in his master’s thesis, which is creating and investigating mathematical models for wilding pines, the conifers whose advancing fronts are a significant problem in New Zealand’s high country.

Elliott’s volunteering has included drafting policy and acting as a spokesperson for Generation Zero, the youth-led organisation advocating for a low-emissions New Zealand. He also plays important roles in Riccarton Community Church and the 1st Christchurch Boys’ Brigade Company.

Elliott’s past research activities include helping Te Pūnaha Matatini, the Centre of Research Excellence for complex systems, in modelling for the Covid-19 work that won it the 2020 Prime Minister’s Science Prize.

He will be joined at Oxford by fellow 2022 Rhodes Scholars Maisy Bentley, who will be studying for a Master of Philosophy in Socio-Legal Research, and Oliver Sutcliffe, who aims to study for a combined Master of Public Policy and Master of Science in Public Policy Research.

Offering her warmest congratulations to New Zealand’s 2022 Rhodes Scholars, Dame Cindy says: “Maisy, Elliott and Oliver’s selection is not only testament to their outstanding academic careers so far, but also to their clear commitment to using their talents for the good of others. I have no doubt they will each go on to achieve remarkable things and help to make Aotearoa New Zealand a better place for future generations.”

In New Zealand, the application and selection process is administered by Universities New Zealand – Te Pokai Tara along with more than 35 other scholarships and fellowships.

Applications for 2024 close on 1 August 2023. More information is available on the scholarship’s page on the Universities New Zealand website. Read more about the Rhodes Scholarship. A list of New Zealand Rhodes Scholars from 1904 is available here.

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