Commonwealth Day 2022 - Delivering a common future

Flags of the Commonwealth being held by a diverse group

Commonwealth Day, on 14th March, celebrates how member countries in the Commonwealth family are addressing, innovating and connecting to ‘Deliver a Common Future’. We are committed to supporting our members to tackle global challenges from cleaning up plastic pollution in our oceans, helping to build more sustainable cities, improving health and supporting decent work and economic growth.

‘Delivering a common future’ is also the theme for the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), and we’ve been reflecting on what this means for us and our membership.

Through our role as a Commonwealth organisation, we believe we can contribute to and influence change, and bring our mission – to build a better world through higher education – to life. We continue to drive and work with our members on:

  1. Sustainable urbanisation
  2. Increasing opportunities for scholars across the Commonwealth
  3. Climate change and the blue economy, including
    • Antigua and Barbuda Centre of Excellence in Oceanography and the Blue Economy
    • Blue Charter Fellowships
  4. Digital access and inclusion
  5. Higher education partnerships for sustainable development

Sustainable urbanisation

Our cities already consume more than two thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of all carbon emissions. From 2015 to 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to almost double, and almost 50% of that global urban growth is projected to be in the Commonwealth.

The ACU has been working with a collection of Commonwealth Associations (Commonwealth Association of Architects, Commonwealth Association of Planners, Commonwealth Local Government Forum) and the Princes Foundation on a Commonwealth Sustainable Urbanisation Initiative.

The initiative has collaborated to develop and promote a “Call to Action” on sustainable urbanisation in the Commonwealth. We will be working at CHOGM through a range of events to highlight the important role that universities have in supporting sustainable urbanisation throughout the Commonwealth.

Increasing opportunities for scholars across the Commonwealth

International collaboration in higher education leads to breakthroughs in knowledge, the free exchange of ideas, and enduring bonds between institutions and nations. But it begins with connections between people.

The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) is an international framework where countries of the Commonwealth offer university scholarships and fellowships to citizens of other member states. Scholarships are funded in two ways:

  1. By individual governments and universities, for study within those countries or institutions
  2. By the CSFP endowment fund – a central fund owned by and for Commonwealth governments that supports Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships for students from all over the Commonwealth to study at universities in low- and middle-income countries

We want to increase the number of scholarships on offer, so that we can bring the best minds together from across the Commonwealth to work on global challenges.

Climate change and the Blue Economy

Antigua and Barbuda Centre of Excellence in Oceanography and the Blue Economy

Caribbean small island states are buffeted by some of the worst impacts of climate change. They also stand to benefit from emerging industries worth USD 2.5 trillion including aquaculture and marine renewable energy through the sustainable diversification of the economy.

The government of Antigua and Barbuda has committed to transitioning to a Blue Economy - reducing overreliance on tourism and supporting sustainable and resilient economic development. A key pillar of this is the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in Oceanography and the Blue Economy at the University of the West Indies’ Five Islands Campus

Alongside international partner organisations including the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), and the Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the ACU sits on the International Steering Committee for the project and is convening universities from across the Commonwealth to develop the networks and collaborations which underpin research-led solutions.

Blue Charter Fellowships

Our ocean is essential for nearly all processes of life, underpins livelihoods, food security and cultural traditions for communities around the world however, the accumulation of marine plastics pollution increasingly threatens fragile underwater ecosystems. It has become one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time.

In response, countries across the Commonwealth collectively signed in 2018 the Commonwealth Blue Charter to affirm their shared commitment to tackling ocean-related challenges and preserving threatened marine ecosystems.

As part of this, the ACU received funding from the UK Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Waitrose & Partners to support 48 outstanding Blue Charter Fellows. The Fellows focused their research on preventing plastics getting into the sea, developing alternatives to plastics, and cleaning up the seas. The first Fellowships have achieved xxx and we are working to secure funding to build on this success.

Digital Access and Inclusion

Digital access and inclusion remains an important area for higher education institutions across the Commonwealth, as the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the challenges and disparities in accessing education online, but also presented a window of opportunity to build resilience and widen access to education. This is a key area for the ACU.

We have carried out research that explores digital engagement across Commonwealth universities, and will continue to research, share knowledge and develop programmes that support digital access and inclusion, including the expansion of our Partnership for Enhanced and Blended Learning (PEBL) programme into new regions.

Higher education partnerships for sustainable development

We believe in the power of education to change lives. Through our membership we are a powerful collective voice for universities, large and small, on a global stage. At the highest levels we promote the value of universities by leading debates and supporting key dialogues in international higher education.

A new study commissioned by ourselves and the British Council has found that international higher education partnerships are highly effective in supporting progress against all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).It is vital that international higher education partnerships are recognised for their ability to contribute to all of the 17 SDGs, and not just to Goal 4: quality education. We will continue to build evidence and ensure that our new research and programmes are building sustainable and equitable partnerships.