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The Commonwealth Virtual Exchange: Helping students build the skills to become tomorrow’s changemakers

Published on 03 October 2022

What skills and knowledge do today’s students need to develop to become tomorrow’s leaders and changemakers? And how can we equip them to tackle our planet’s complex global challenges?

50 students from 10 Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) member institutions in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia and the UK are setting out on a journey, beginning this week, to build these essential skills by taking part in the ACU’s inaugural Commonwealth Virtual Exchange.

Supporting the ACU's aim to widen access to international higher education, students who have not previously studied abroad will start an innovative and stimulating eight-week virtual exchange programme linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

During the programme, they will create a new business idea to address one of the global challenges, building intercultural awareness and developing an entrepreneurial mindset while working with others.

International collaboration is key to achieving the SDGs. Students will develop this awareness alongside building skills in leadership, teamwork, problem solving, project management and delivering presentations. In the final week, participants will have the opportunity to meet in-person with other students from their university to share what they’ve learnt during the programme.

International student mobility schemes have become more popular in recent years, but outward mobility is still limited for many. Through its unique and diverse global network, the ACU can offer the opportunity to students who will benefit the most, as well as convening a wealth of expertise to deliver the programme.

The Commonwealth Virtual Exchange is free to take part and delivered online, allowing students who are under-represented in international mobility programmes to join the programme alongside their university studies.

The ACU, with additional sponsorship from Northern Consortium, will fund students from the participating member universities to take part. Participants without access to wi-fi will be able to apply for a grant to fund their data costs.

Dr Joanna Newman, Chief Executive and Secretary General of the ACU, said: ‘The ACU has a strong track record of delivering impactful and transformative international opportunities for students across the Commonwealth. Whether students go on to become social entrepreneurs, or build their careers within established organisations, they will be able to draw upon the flexible, dynamic mindset they develop during the programme.’

‘We hope that these future changemakers will also be able to build the cultural understanding and connections which are essential to international collaboration in order to make progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.’

Dr Raghu Radhakrishnan, former Director of International Collaborations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), India, helped to design the programme and said: ‘Universities have a responsibility to prepare their graduates to live and work in a global society. The ACU’s commitment to internationalisation is reflected in its efforts to create opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds and nationalities to partake in innovative collaborative endeavours.’

‘A well-designed virtual exchange programme may be just what the globalised world needs to create truly equitable education across all boundaries. I am delighted that MAHE Manipal is playing a pivotal role in making the Commonwealth Virtual Exchange a reality’.

Prof Dr Yong Zulina Zubairi, Associate Vice-Chancellor Global Engagement at Universiti Malaya (UM), Malaysia, co-designed the programme and commented: ‘Universiti Malaya is delighted to have collaborated with colleagues from other ACU member institutions from five Commonwealth countries to design the Commonwealth Virtual Exchange pilot.’

‘The processes of critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving are part of our university’s core educational values and these align well with the virtual student exchange programme. At UM we strive to provide equal access to opportunities, and a programme such as the Commonwealth Virtual Exchange, which is delivered online, helps to support this aim. We look forward to the exciting programme!’

The Commonwealth Virtual Exchange draws on the expertise of senior specialists from the following ACU member institutions: University of Malaya, Malaysia, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India, the University of East London, The University of Edinburgh, and The University of Western Australia, alongside support from five other ACU member universities: SVKM’s NMIMS, National Law University Delhi, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sheffield Hallam University and The Chinese University of Hong Kong.