'As long as we invest in young people they will innovate in ways we never imagined...'
Bill Gates, speaking at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2018.
The Commonwealth's youth have been in the spotlight this week, with a three-day Youth Forum taking place at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), and HRH Prince Harry taking up the mantle of Youth Ambassador. And with good reason: 60% of the Commonwealth's population is under the age of 30. The forum welcomed and encouraged ongoing partnership and collaboration between member states and Commonwealth civil society in moving forward towards an inclusive and sustainable future for young people.
So why does international academic mobility have such an integral role in achieving this vision?
For me, the answer is two-fold. Firstly, the Commonwealth's greatest asset is its human capital, and its greatest power lies in its ability to mobilise and network that human capital. And second, because of the creative and constructive strength in its diversity. It is the hundreds, thousands and millions of individual human experiences and innovations created at the constructive edge of difference that will shape the positive future of the Commonwealth.
Living, studying and socialising in another country for extended periods of time through international student experiences are one of the most effective ways to build deep links and challenge thought. The benefits to the individual can be nothing short of transformative.
The students themselves are far better placed to explain the benefits of their experiences than I am. Take for example Wendy Wandile Dlamini, a student from Swaziland, who received a full CSFP endowment fund scholarship to study MSc Epidemiology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. Speaking about her experience, Wendy said: 'The two years of my scholarship at the University of the Witwatersrand were an amazing and fulfilling experience both academically and personally. I am convinced that my experience in such a highly reputable institution has helped me acquire intellectual expansion and equipped me with the qualitative and quantitative techniques required for research in the health sector.'
Of course, the benefits of student mobility are not just limited to individual scholars. The institutions that host international students are enriched by their presence, bringing new and different perspectives and ways of working to the student community, and building capacity, international research and global alumni networks for the institution.
But providing the holistic scholarship packages that make this possible requires a significant investment.
That is why I am so proud to be heading up the Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships, announced by HRH Prince Harry on the opening day of CHOGM. This innovative intergovernmental scheme is funded by Commonwealth governments and supports scholarships hosted in low and middle income countries, ensuring mobility opportunities are available in every direction across the Commonwealth: from Malawi to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka to Botswana, Canada to Tanzania. And because the scheme is underpinned by an endowment fund, these opportunities will be available for many, many generations to come. Keep an eye on this page, where the next round of scholarships will be advertised in May.
There are also huge and parallel benefits to home countries whose students study abroad, broadening networks, building understanding and developing research links. This is why the ACU also supports outward mobility from the UK to the rest of the Commonwealth – something that Universities UK Go International campaign advocates strongly. Edward Boyle bursaries give UK medical students the opportunity to learn valuable clinical skills by supporting them to undertake medical electives in low and middle-income Commonwealth countries, such as these two students who have used their bursaries to travel to India and Malawi. And for the first time in 2018, we have the new Global Summer School Grants scheme to fund UK students to travel to other summer schools at member universities in different countries. Thanks to this scheme, UK students will be studying marine science at University of Malaya, learning about public health at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and appreciating Indian culture at Lovely Professional University, among other experiences.
The future Commonwealth will thrive on the products of 'brain circulation' and collaboration between its diverse population. Indeed, to respond effectively climate change, harness the power of technology, and reap the benefits of Industry 4.0, we will need to create more innovative and better ways of putting different heads together to solve grand challenges.
It is for all of these benefits – to the individual, the institution and the Commonwealth – that the ACU continues to invest in young people through providing international mobility opportunities. It isn't just long-term international study experiences that can be transformative. In December 2017 we brought together 30 student leaders at Heriot Watt University Malaysia to develop practical solutions to the challenge of creating inclusive communities in universities and their wider communities. Their diverse experiences helped to push forward solutions to the challenges around respect and understanding across Commonwealth countries, as Robbie Francis from University of Otago, New Zealand, explains. And every year our ACU Summer School, (next to be hosted by The Chinese University of Hong Kong on 'Designing and Creating Sustainable Communities') brings students together to exchange ideas and learn from each other during an exciting week of expert lectures, skills development, social events, group work, and field trips, just as at Bath Spa last year.
Looking to the future
Student and academic mobility has a defining role in the future Commonwealth, and I'm proud to have joined the ACU in this new role as Head of Strategic Partnerships at such an exciting time for Commonwealth youth. The ACU is uniquely placed to facilitate and enhance academic mobility, through its investment in grants and scholarships for students and early career academic (last year alone, this topped 100 awards) as well as managing the UK government's three main scholarship programmes (Chevening, Commonwealth, and Marshall).
I'm looking forward to building upon our existing mobility schemes and working with the Commonwealth Secretariat and Commonwealth governments to support the next generation to collaborate, cooperate, and form new partnerships that will ultimately contribute to a safer, fairer, more secure and more prosperous future for the 2.4 billion people of the Commonwealth, and beyond.