Meghan speaking to Blue Charter fellows

HRH The Duchess of Sussex makes first official visit as ACU Patron

Published on 31 January 2019

HRH The Duchess of Sussex joined ACU staff, students, and academics at City, University of London, today for her first official visit as Patron of the ACU.

Attendees took part in an interactive workshop to showcase how the ACU is building a better world through higher education. A series of discussion groups themed around the ACU's key areas of work, such as gender equity, access and inclusion, and sustainability, gave researchers from across the Commonwealth an opportunity to demonstrate to The Duchess how their work is directly contributing to this vision.


In addition, ACU staff had the opportunity to meet with The Duchess to talk about how our work supports our vision – from Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships to innovative programmes designed to improve access to higher education.

Joanna Newman, ACU Chief Executive and Secretary General, said: 'Today was a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate how the ACU brings together people from across the Commonwealth and beyond through our unique network of universities, to advance knowledge, promote understanding, broaden minds, and improve lives. We're looking forward to continuing to work with The Duchess as our Patron'.


Andrew Harvey, a Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships alumnus, added: 'Although my story is, in many ways, particular, I am certain that the challenges faced, the rewards earned, and the skills developed are very familiar to my fellow Commonwealth Scholars and the 35,000 alumni across the world who have benefitted over the last 60 years. Ultimately, it is in these commonalities that the real value of the Commonwealth Scholarships lies. It is the stories, like mine of new connections forged between people and their nations, wherein lies their true inspiration'.

Professor Sir Paul Curran, President of City, University of London, said: 'It was an honour to welcome Her Royal Highness to City as Patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities. City is one of the UK's most popular universities for international students and staff, notably those from Commonwealth countries, so we were particularly proud to host her visit. Our membership of the ACU, the world's first international university network, is something in which we take great pride'.

The Duchess's patronage will help raise the profile of the ACU and our work advancing sustainable development through higher education across the Commonwealth.

About the groups

We were proud to bring together a diverse group of individuals who represent the ACU's core activities, including the scholarship schemes we manage on behalf of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Blue Charter programme, funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Read on to find out more.

Access and Inclusion – Disabilities

Disabled people can face significant barriers in accessing essential services such as education and healthcare, for example an alarming 90% of disabled children in developing countries are unable to attend school. Three of our current Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholars studying in Ghana joined today's conversation via Skype.

  • Ms Mayamiko Chibowa, Chevening Scholar from Malawi, studying SEN Disability and Inclusive Education at the University of Roehampton
  • Mr Hilary Harawo, Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholar from Kenya studying Disability, Rehabilitation and Development at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana
  • Mr Ntani Nsutebu, Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholar from Cameroon studying Clinical Pharmacy at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana
  • Mr Almachius Rwegasira, Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholar from Tanzania studying Analytical Chemistry at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana

Access and Inclusion – Gender

For more than 30 years, the ACU has worked in partnership with our member universities to address gender issues, such as championing women in leadership and combating sexual violence on campus. This group brought together representatives from the University of Manchester, who have directly benefited from an ACU Gender Grant, with both Commonwealth and Marshall Scholars.

  • Dr Rachel Cowen, University Lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and ACU Gender Grant Recipient, University of Manchester
  • Ms Sahelee Praveen Dipa, Commonwealth Scholar from Bangladesh, studying Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies
  • Ms Omolade Femi-Ajao, Early Career Researcher, studying Health and Gender Equality at the University of Manchester
  • Ms Attiya Latif, Marshall Scholar from the USA, studying Women's Studies at the University of Oxford


The Commonwealth Blue Charter affirms our collective commitment to preserving and nurturing the world's oceans. The ACU Blue Charter Fellowships support academics to exchange and collaborate on the latest research and knowledge to help solve the scourge of marine pollution.

  • Ms Refilwe Mofokeng, ACU Blue Charter Fellow from South Africa, working at the University of Birmingham
  • Dr Holly Nel, Supervisor, ACU Blue Charter Fellowships at the University of Birmingham
  • Prof Wouter Poortinga, Supervisor, ACU Blue Charter Fellowships at Cardiff University
  • Mr Rajkumar Sahoo, ACU Blue Charter Fellow from India, working at Cardiff University

Peace and Reconciliation

Members of the ACU's Peace and Reconciliation Network – which brings universities together to boost their role in truth-telling and reconciliation as part of their wider communities – joined up with students to discuss how higher education institutions have a critical role to play in addressing historical injustices and colonial legacies.

  • Ms Logan Brown, Marshall Scholar from the USA, studying Terrorism, Security and Society at King's College London
  • Ms Ishrat Hossain, Commonwealth PhD Scholar from Bangladesh, studying the Origins of Buddhist-Muslim conflict at the University of Oxford
  • Dr Catalina Montoya Londoño, Director of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies, Liverpool Hope University, member of the ACU Peace and Reconciliation Network
  • Dr Meera Sabaratnam, Chair, Decolonising SOAS Working Group, School of Oriental and African Studies, member of the ACU Peace and Reconciliation Network
  • Ms Caryn Thandi Peterson, Commonwealth PhD Scholar from South Africa, studying Women and Gender at the University of Warwick


Today, only 1% of eligible refugees have access to higher education. Through the scholarship schemes it manages and in collaboration with universities, NGOs and policymakers, the ACU supports access to education for displaced and mobile people, helping them take control of their own futures. This was brought to life by both Commonwealth Scholars in this group, themselves refugees who are supported to study in the UK by the Windle Trust.

  • Mr Emmanuel Jesse Ariko, Commonwealth Scholar from Uganda, studying Advanced Computer Science at Liverpool University
  • Dr Ephraim Kisangala, Commonwealth Scholar from Uganda, studying Public Health and Health Promotion at Bangor University
  • Dr Aura Lounasmaa, Director, Open Learning Initiative, University of East London
  • Ms Devika Ranjan, Marshall Scholar from the USA, studying Applied Theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

ACU Staff

Achieving the ACU's vision would not be possible without our staff. A representative group from across the organisation met with The Duchess to discuss how our strategic priorities guide our work, and help us contribute to building a better world through higher education.

  • Professor Paul Boyle, Deputy Chair of the ACU Council (governing body); President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester
  • Ms Keren Elton, Programme Development and Fundraising Officer
  • Dr Faye Taylor, Head of Strategic Partnerships
  • Ms Natasha Lokhun, Interim Head of Marketing and Communications
  • Mr David Osei, Communications Manager (Chevening Secretariat)
  • Mr Tarrance Ryder-Downes, Head of Human Resources

More information

The ACU is the membership organisation for universities in the Commonwealth, committed to building a better world through higher education. With a unique network of over 500 member institutions in more than 50 countries across the Commonwealth, the ACU expands educational opportunities, enables vital research, and supports the long-term vitality of higher education.

HM The Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, was Patron of the ACU for 33 years. The ACU is incredibly grateful for her dedication to the organisation and the Commonwealth cause. HRH The Duchess of Sussex became Patron of the ACU in January 2019.

2019 marks the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship plan – an intergovernmental scheme owned and supported by Commonwealth governments – which supports students to gain a postgraduate qualification in another country, while developing their skills and building their networks. The ACU is commemorating this with the official launch of the Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarship scheme.