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ACU Secretary General Joanna Newman to join SOAS University of London

Published on 24 April 2023

Taking up the role of Provost from September 2023, Joanna will be providing strategic leadership to enhance teaching and learning, working closely with the Director to support the organisation to realise its vision and strategy.

Joanna joined the ACU in 2017, as the first female Secretary General. Over the past six years, Joanna has transformed the ACU into a vibrant membership body that plays a significant role as the voice of higher education in the Commonwealth, and which has a clear vison and mission to build a better world through higher education.

Joanna navigated the organisation through a challenging time during the Covid Pandemic, and led the implementation of a new strategic plan, The Road to 2030, which pinned the success of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals to the vital role that universities contribute to each one.

Over 2,000 individuals have joined networks in climate resilience, peace and reconciliation and the SDGs – creating new opportunities through international collaboration across the ACU’s membership of over 500 universities.

Joanna has also worked with colleagues to bring substantial new funding for capacity building programmes that have led to increasing access to quality higher education across regions where demand vastly outstrips supply. Examples include PEBL East and West Africa, which equipped more than 4,200 academics with blended learning expertise, and the Ocean Country Partnership Programme (OCPP) Scholarships, which, funded through the UK’s Blue Planet Fund, offer a unique opportunity for students from the South Pacific to undertake a fully funded Master’s or PhD in marine science. She has raised the profile of the Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarshipsincreasing the endowment for the fund.   

Under Joanna’s leadership, the ACU became principal partner in delivering the Turing Scheme, overseeing the assessment of applications and supporting with monitoring and evaluation. An advocate of making international mobility more accessible, Joanna and her team piloted innovations in virtual mobility, one example is the Commonwealth Virtual Exchange, which, by blending elements of physical and remote international collaboration, can significantly increase the number of opportunities available.

Before joining the ACU Joanna was Vice-Principal (International) at King’s College London, where she was instrumental in forging new international research and teaching collaborations. Her previous roles include Director of the UK Higher Education International Unit (now known as Universities UK International), where she led the development of a UK-wide international education strategy; and Head of Higher Education at the British Library, where she commissioned the Google Generation report, the first study of Generation Y researchers.

Joanna commented on the news: 'I am excited about the new opportunity at SOAS, an organisation that shares a similar ethos and values to the ACU. But of course at the same time I am sad to leave an organisation that I have come to love, and that does so much important work that really transforms lives. Looking ahead, there are great opportunities for the ACU, which has a crucial role to play as the only membership body accredited to represent higher education across the Commonwealth.'

Cheryl de la Rey, Chair of the ACU Council added: 'I am personally very grateful to Joanna for her time at the ACU. She has been an inspiring and dedicated CEO and Secretary General and has made an important contribution. I appreciate her leadership and wish her well and look forward to making new connections for the ACU with her at SOAS. The recruitment process for a new Secretary General is underway.'