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2019 at the ACU

Published on 17 December 2019
Dr Joanna Newman Photo Approved Compressed
Dr Joanna Newman

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.

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As 2019 draws to a close, it’s a fitting time to look back at how the ACU has worked with its members and partners to deliver on our core mission: building a better world through higher education.

The year began with the announcement of our new Patron, HRH The Duchess of Sussex. The Duchess shares our passion for the transformational power of higher education, as has been seen in her first official visit hosted by City, University of London; her participation in a roundtable on ‘Solving global challenges through inclusive higher education’ at the University of Johannesburg; and her message of support on World Access to Higher Education Day.

By bringing universities together to collaborate on areas of shared interest, we are able to harness the power of our diverse network of 500+ universities. Our Commonwealth Climate Resilience Network (led by Fiji National University, the University of the South Pacific, and the University of the West Indies) and Commonwealth Peace and Reconciliation Network (led by the University of Melbourne) are developing initiatives to support universities and their work with communities in these critical areas. We launched a new network on Higher Education and the SDGs, aimed at university staff who are directly engaging in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. And we convened two events this year, hosted by the University of Edinburgh and King’s College London, focused on how universities are supporting access to higher education for refugees and displaced people; our latest report, ‘Extending the welcome’, contains a series of recommendations on this topic.

The ACU is committed to promoting the role of higher education in sustainable development within and beyond the sector. At this year’s UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF), we launched a statement on higher education’s essential contribution to the SDGs, in partnership with the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) and the International Association of Universities (IAU). We recently agreed to strengthen our joint collaboration with the AUF and IAU – together representing over 2,000 higher education institutions – ahead of next year’s HLPF.

Also looking ahead to another major event next year – the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda in June – we held the first workshop in the Commonwealth Futures series, reflecting on the role of student leaders in creating cohesive societies. Outcomes from the workshops will directly feed into policy dialogue at the Commonwealth Youth Forum, held alongside CHOGM. 43 students from 15 countries also participated in the 2019 ACU Summer School, hosted by the University of Mauritius on the theme 'Public health: from a small island state to the global community'.

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Our vital work to support the long-term vitality of universities continues apace. The first batch of six blended learning courses offered through the Partnership for Enhanced and Blended Learning (PEBL) has reached more than 17,000 students in ten participating universities across east Africa, with additional universities set to offer the courses next semester. The Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) project, which secured a two-year funding extension from the UK Department for International Development this year, continues to address the critical shortage of African researchers working on climate change research through support for individual researchers as well as universities.

Supporting early career researchers is an important strand of our work. Thanks to additional funding from Waitrose & Partners, we were able to offer a second round of Commonwealth Blue Charter Fellowships for world-class research and innovation in marine plastics. Over 160 researchers from 34 Nigerian universities attended our ‘Developing the next generation of researchers’ workshop hosted by the University of Ibadan. In collaboration with Universities South Africa, we launched a report – ‘Generating talent: transforming support for the research landscape in South Africa’ – recommending ways in which universities can invest in the next generation of researchers, following a symposium earlier in the year.

The ACU is proud to support and deliver a variety of educational opportunities. Each year, we award around GBP 650,000 in grants and scholarships. In 2019, we were especially pleased to be able to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan. We are working with Commonwealth governments to expand the number of Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships available, through support for the CSFP endowment fund.

Our new magazine – The ACU Review – celebrates and showcases the remarkable work of our member universities and their contribution to the world around them. The first issue, launched this year, explores endangered languages and how universities across the Commonwealth are working with indigenous communities to protect and preserve our planet’s linguistic diversity.

My thanks to all our members, partners, staff, and supporters who have helped to make 2019 such a successful year. I look forward to our continued collaboration in 2020.