Group of staff pose in front of screen showing new ACU strategy

Our team

Senior Executive Team

Joanna Newman MBE Headshot

Dr Joanna Newman MBE FRSA is Chief Executive and Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) – an international organisation dedicated to building a better world through higher education, with more than 500 member universities in over 50 countries. She is the first female Secretary General of the ACU, and in this role also directs the administration of the UK government’s three main international scholarship programmes – Chevening, Commonwealth, and Marshall Scholarships – as well as the multilateral Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships.

Joanna’s career has been in the service of British and international higher education. Before joining the ACU in 2017, she was Vice-Principal (International) at King’s College London, where she was instrumental in forging new international research and teaching collaborations. Her previous roles include Director of the UK Higher Education International Unit (now known as Universities UK International), where she led the development of a UK-wide international education strategy; and Head of Higher Education at the British Library, where she commissioned the Google Generation report, the first study of Generation Y researchers.

Joanna serves on a number of boards, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s Leadership Council, the High-level Advisory Group for Mission 4.7, and as a lay member of the Council of Cardiff University. She is a Senior Research Fellow in History at King’s College London. Her most recent publication is Nearly the New World: The British West Indies and the Flight from Nazism, 1933-1945. In 2014, Joanna was awarded an MBE in recognition of her work promoting British higher education internationally.

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Caroline Harrison Cropped

Caroline Harrison is the Chief Finance Officer at the ACU. Before joining the ACU, Caroline worked as Director of Finance and Planning at Richmond, The American International University in London where her remit included facilities and estates, as well as finance.

Prior to that, Caroline worked at Middlesex University, holding a number of senior positions before being appointed Director of Finance. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (ACMA).

Sharon Memis (1)

Sharon Memis is the Chief Operating Officer at the ACU. Prior to joining the ACU, Sharon held a variety of senior posts with the British Council including in India, the United States, Brussels and London, contributing to the internationalisation of education and culture for the UK. Sharon has also worked as a consultant in international cultural relations and both presents and writes on a range of topics related to international engagement including strategy and impact evaluation.  As a qualified teacher, Sharon has taught at schools and universities in the UK and overseas. A linguist by background, Sharon speaks six languages.

Senior Management Team


Khairul Bashar is Director of Finance at ACU. He oversees the day-to-day operations of the Finance team and is responsible for ensuring that the ACU manages its finances responsibly and legal requirements are met. Before joining the ACU, Khairul worked at the Education Development Trust, helping them improve their financial processes. Prior to that, he worked at the Lawn Tennis Association, where he gained experience managing all financial functions.

Deborah Bennett

Deborah Bennett is Head of Programme Management for the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) Secretariat, based at the ACU. She manages the delivery of the CSC’s nine programmes and is responsible for managing the Alumni and Communications functions within the team, as well as managing Governance for the Commission.

Deborah has held a number of different roles within the CSC Secretariat team – having joined as a Programme Officer – and therefore has a wide experience of the different aspects of the Commission’s work. Prior to joining the ACU, she worked for the British Council on international projects in the field of health, including a short secondment to their office in Syria. 

Mary Denyer (2)

Mary Denyer is Assistant Secretary and Head of Scholarship Administration for the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission, based at the ACU. Responsible for the administration of the Marshall Scholarships, her job ranges from drafting policy for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to the pastoral care of the 100 Scholars that are in the UK each year.

Mary has an international perspective in matters related to education and policy, having worked for the ACU for over 20 years, as well as the American College in London. She has served as a trustee for UKCISA (the UK Council for International Student Affairs) and is an active participant in the US National Association of Fellowship Advisors.

Consola Evans

Consola Evans is Deputy Director of Global Partnerships Group and Head of Membership Development at the ACU. She is responsible for the membership lifecycle and delivery of member services to over 500 members in more than 50 countries.

Consola has a background in membership development having previously worked at the Management Consultancies Association and the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts. She has worked for MPs in the UK, Canadian and Australian parliaments.

Meriel Flint O'kane

Meriel Flint-O’Kane is the Head of Business and Programme Delivery at the ACU. She is responsible for shaping the programme strategy and delivery to maximise the impact of ACU programmes in building a better world through higher education.

Meriel has a background in international development and higher education and has previously held roles at Kings College London, UK Research and Innovation and Oxfam. She has experience managing strategic global research and funding collaborations including work with the Newton Fund and Global Challenges Research Fund, and has delivered bilateral and multilateral research and funding initiatives across Asia, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and with UK partners including DFID, Wellcome and the FCO. 

Matthew Hornshaw Headshot

Matt Hornshaw is the Interim Head of Membership and International Strategic Engagement at the ACU and prime contact for our network of 500 global universities. Matt is nearing his 30th year in the international education sector having held senior positions in private and public sector universities and organisations and with expertise in institutional strategic partnership development, trans-national education and a passion for providing access to education for those that may otherwise miss out.

Jonathan Jenkins

Dr Jonathan Jenkins is Director of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) Secretariat, based at the ACU. He is responsible for strategic planning, resource management, and reporting successes. He has worked with the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Department for Education (DfE), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the Scottish Government on scholarship programmes that bring exceptional talent to the UK, provide in-country training and develop essential knowledge and skills.

Prior to working in scholarships, Jonathan carried out research in universities in the United Kingdom and the United States in the field of quantum chemistry.

Natasha Lokhun

Natasha Lokhun is Head of Marketing and Communications at the ACU. She is responsible for building, maintaining, and advancing the ACU’s brand, and leads a team that manages a range of channels to engage with a wide variety of audiences and stakeholders across all five of the organisation’s strategic priorities.

Natasha’s previous roles at the ACU include communications and external liaison for the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK (CSC), the UK government’s main arm for scholarships for development. Prior to joining the ACU, she worked in internal communications for NatWest Bank. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Jackie Middleton 4

Jackie Middleton is Governance Manager at the ACU, and Secretary to the ACU Council and its committees. She is responsible for creating and managing an effective governance framework for the ACU, monitoring compliance with its governing documents, reflecting best practice and Charity Commission guidance, and ensuring this supports the ACU’s goals. She also manages the office of the Chief Executive and Secretary General.

Liberty Oberlander

Liberty is Head of Business and Programme Development at the Association of Commonwealth Universities. She is responsible for developing and sourcing funding for new programmes that support the vitality of universities across the Commonwealth. Liberty’s previous role at the ACU was Deputy Head of Membership.

Liberty holds a diploma in fundraising from the Institute of Fundraising and has previously held posts delivering major donor, individual giving and corporate supporter strategies at Dogs Trust and Hampstead Theatre.   

Tarrance Ryder Downs

Tarrance Ryder-Downes is Director of Human Resources at the ACU. He is responsible for the HR, Learning and Development, and Office and Facilities functions. He also has a leading role in the ACU’s HR in HE Community. Tarrance has over 14 years’ experience in HR, including extensive experience across the not-for-profit sector. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Miranda Thomas

Miranda Thomas is Director of the Chevening Secretariat, based at the ACU. Chevening is the UK government’s flagship international awards scheme aimed at developing global leaders, funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner organisations. The Chevening Secretariat administers the programme on behalf of the FCO.

Previously Miranda was Assistant Director at Universities UK International, leading the External Affairs team. Other higher education sector roles have included leading the business education and skills practice at PR consultancy Communications Management, and teams at Cass Business School; City, University of London; and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. She started her career in consumer PR, promoting everything from Girlguiding UK and The Economist to Clarins and Captain Birds Eye.

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Alex Wright

Alex Wright is Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the ACU. He leads the ACU’s work on higher education and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including political engagement with the Commonwealth and United Nations. He also coordinates the ACU’s policy networks on Peace and Reconciliation and Climate Resilience, which encourage universities to take action to directly address specific SDGs.

Prior to joining the ACU, Alex worked as an independent consultant specialising in international education policy and advocacy, Director of an NGO, and Education Advisor for the Commonwealth Secretariat. His experience includes developing and managing international development and education programmes, planning and delivering intergovernmental conferences, representing clients in international policy networks and processes, and advocacy around the SDGs.

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