Well-funded and resilient higher education systems are essential: ACU addresses ministers at #22CCEM in London

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On 16-17 May 2024, we joined education ministers and senior officials in London, UK for the 22nd Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (22CCEM).  

Education ministers from across the Commonwealth convened at CCEM to discuss the ways to further empower 2.6 billion Commonwealth citizens, review progress on commitments made at 21CCEM held in Nairobi, Kenya in 2022, and discuss strategic actions needed to address education inequity across the Commonwealth. 

As precursor and part of the official 22CCEM programme, we hosted the ACU vice-chancellor summit 2024 on the day before the ministerial meetings. Bringing together over 50 vice-chancellors, education ministers, and higher education experts, the event drew on the diversity yet commonality of the Commonwealth to share experiences and find policy solutions for the shared challenges university leaders and governments face. 

Insights from the expert-facilitated policy dialogues that ran throughout the summit fed directly into 22CCEM, at which we represented our members through the new ACU-led Commonwealth Higher Education Taskforce (HET). 

Discussions from the HET working group meeting, and wider engagement with Commonwealth vice-chancellors at the summit, resulted in several key recommendations for Ministers to keep focused on, and many more which the HET will develop further in the coming months. In addition to these key recommendations, we were invited to present flagship initiatives highlighting higher education across the Commonwealth:  

  • Professor Cheryl de la Rey, Chair of ACU Council and vice-chancellor of University of Canterbury, New Zealand, delivered a speech calling on Education Ministers at 22CCEM to enhance access and graduate outcomes for students through investment in the ACU Partnership for Enhanced and Blended Learning (PEBL) Programme.  PEBL seeks to improve access and quality of teaching through blended learning. 

Key recommendations for ministers  

At 22CCEM, we advocated that well-funded and resilient higher education systems are essential not only for navigating the ever-changing educational and industrial landscape, but for meeting education targets across the entire pipeline. Therefore, governments must commit to realising innovative, sustainable financial models for universities.   

In addition, we provided a set of creative approaches for governments to better finance higher education, and move beyond the obvious asks:  

  • For example, how we can explore tripartite funding mechanisms between government, industry and universities; 
  • Explore the use of foreign tax credits; 
  • Explore industry incentives to work with and invest in universities through curriculum development, apprenticeships, and research commercialisation. 

Furthermore, we underlined that university research is the cornerstone of sustainable development and our committed to bringing together universities and Commonwealth governments to facilitate partnerships and co-create research-led solutions to fulfil national missions. 

We stated that governments must incentivise and invest in university research as a crucial enabler, finding policy solutions and mechanisms to cultivate a productive research ecosystem and better facilitate equitable research partnerships and emphasised that universities can be part of the solution for many of the wider challenges governments face too, including AI and digitalisation. 

Commenting ahead of 22CCEM, ACU Secretary General and Chief Executive Professor Colin Riordan, said:  

‘Ensuring inclusive, quality higher education for all will require collaboration amongst partners, institutions and governments that transcends national borders. Universities are at the forefront of driving solutions to some of the most pressing global challenges that define our time, through their pathbreaking research, teaching, and community engagement.  

At 22CCEM we look forward to continuing to highlight the pressing need for sustained and increased funding in higher education – an essential component for global sustainable development, strengthening our democracies, and lifting lives across the Commonwealth.’ 

About the ACU Higher Education Taskforce  

The ACU and the Commonwealth Secretariat launched the Higher Education Taskforce (HET) earlier this year, formed to represent the voice of higher education in the Commonwealth and drive forward progress on education policy commitments.

Made-up of Commonwealth university vice-chancellors, the HET will support Commonwealth member states to realise the education policy commitments made at the 21st Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (21CCEM) and progress policy implementation. 

At 21CCEM, education ministers issued a joint statement in which they recognised the urgent need to increase investment in education and skills at all ages, with particular focus on ensuring foundational skills for all. The meeting marked the first time Ministers recognised the important role of higher education in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. 

We look forward to developing further recommendations for Ministers to keep focused on with the HE Taskforce in the coming months, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) taking place in October 2024 in Samoa.

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