Countdown to CHOGM

After a year in post as Secretary General, and a few days ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), this seems a good time to reflect on the role of universities in the world and how the ACU – as the voice of higher education across the Commonwealth – is making a difference.

Debates about education funding often focus on the necessity to focus on primary and secondary levels. But as we know, without the role of the tertiary sector, there would be no skilled teachers in schools, and without good teachers, children are not able to aspire to greater endeavours. Universities equip graduates with the ability to challenge, to think for themselves, to solve problems. In an uncertain world, these skills will become ever more necessary. A stable society is built on the foundation of an education system that caters from cradle to grave. Indeed, OECD figures show how changes in technology and our environment mean that in the future, the job market will depend far more on the tertiary sector providing graduates.

The voice of higher education across the Commonwealth

In arguing the case for higher education, the ACU is uniquely placed to demonstrate how universities are tackling key issues such as the effects of climate change on small and vulnerable states, and giving young people a voice on key issues through higher education and research. The ACU represents over 500 members across all 53 Commonwealth countries. It is in our diversity that we find our strength, and our convening power, as our members are spread across five continents – across geographies ranging from land-locked to small island states, from developed economies to emerging economies, from populations of 13,000 in Nauru to 1.3 billion in India. What is so exciting about being part of the Commonwealth is that our network represents the future: over 60% of the Commonwealth's population is under 30 years of age.

We believe strongly in the power of mobility to transform lives. At CHOGM next week, I hope there will be some time to reflect on the importance of programmes such the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP), conceived by governments in 1959 and run on behalf of the Commonwealth by the ACU. This programme provides young people across the Commonwealth with the opportunity to study outside their home country, offering life-changing opportunities that they would not otherwise have had.

These young people go on to reach the highest levels of their professions, positively influencing their home and host countries and the Commonwealth as a whole. I was proud to hear from three Commonwealth Scholars at the recent Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) in Fiji, when Ahnivar Peralta, a young Commonwealth Scholar from Belize who studied at the University of the South Pacific, spoke with incredible passion about studying climate change in a location directly and immediately affected by it, and his intention to apply the knowledge he has gained to his home country which is experiencing similar problems.

CHOGM will, I hope, present many opportunities to meet with other Commonwealth organisations, government ministers, and other influencers to demonstrate the impact of higher education, and its role as an intrinsic part of sustainable, democratic societies. While there is no forum dedicated to education, it is embedded in the people's, women's, and business forums. Indeed, the themes for this CHOGM – working towards a fairer, more sustainable, secure, and prosperous future – all rely on education playing a key role in making the step changes needed to solve global challenges. From supporting early career researchers, to running gender awareness workshops, giving nearly £1 million in grants, and running the UK government's major scholarship schemes, the ACU is poised to take the next step in its history and advocate more loudly for the role of higher education in the Commonwealth.

Focus on forums

The Youth Forum opens on Monday 16 April and will really set the tone for an interesting week. All will be revealed next Monday, but I am very excited that a key announcement will be made that demonstrates the Commonwealth's commitment to youth and education. Do check our website next week!

It will be a busy and fascinating week, including a panel on inclusive education for inclusive societies with the Commonwealth of Learning and the Royal Commonwealth Society on Monday; a Commonwealth Big Lunch for UK Commonwealth Scholars on Tuesday; and chairing a panel on innovation and trade opportunities also on Tuesday. We are also delighted that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is hosting an event on Wednesday to celebrate science, research and innovation, and that some of the newly-arrived Commonwealth Rutherford Fellows will be present.

No doubt there will be many adjustments to the programme, many changes to the delegate list, and many surprises – but I hope they will be positive ones, building on the work of so many Commonwealth organisations, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and governments, to ensure that the discussions between heads of government, between foreign ministers, and between the huge caravans of people coming with them will be fruitful and create the opportunities for change and renewal that the Commonwealth – and the world – deserves.

Dr Joanna Newman is Chief Executive and Secretary General of the ACU. She joined the ACU in April 2017 and is responsible for fostering and promoting the aims of the ACU, as defined by its membership, in developing inter-Commonwealth relations in the field of higher education. Read more

Last modified on 13/04/2018
Tags: sustainable development, scholarships, Dr Joanna Newman