Solving global challenges through inclusive higher education

Joanna, Meghan & Refilwe together at University of Johannesburg event

HRH The Duchess of Sussex joined students and academics from ACU member universities in South Africa today to discuss how higher education can help build fairer and safer societies for all.

At a roundtable discussion hosted by the University of Johannesburg and chaired by Dr Joanna Newman, ACU Chief Executive and Secretary General, discussions highlighted not only the need for universities to promote equality and inclusive access to education, but also their power to challenge the status quo in wider society.

The Duchess, who became Patron of the ACU earlier this year, heard from changemakers from universities across South Africa, who are helping to transform their campuses and communities to make them safer, more inclusive places for women and marginalised groups.

Her Royal Highness joined calls to bring an end to violence against women, increase access to education and boost the numbers of women working in STEM, saying: "When a woman is empowered it changes absolutely everything in the community and starting an educational atmosphere is really a key point of that."

Joanna, Meghan & Refilwe together at University of Johannesburg event
Meghan meeting QECS scholars
Meghan and Joanna
Presenter at University of Johannesburg event
Conversation between two women

ACU members advancing gender equality

The Duchess announced that three new ACU Gender Grants have been awarded to universities in South Africa – the University of Johannesburg, Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape.

These grants will fund a programme to increase the number of women in research leadership positions; a unique campus walking route designed to encourage meaningful conversations about gender issues; and workshops to develop inclusive university policies and research practices.

Through their innovative projects, these ACU member universities will work to advance gender equality and promote the values of respect, understanding and tolerance on campus and in their communities.

These grants form part of the ACU's wider work supporting gender equity and equality in the Commonwealth.

Supporting the next generation to develop solutions to global challenges

During today's event, The Duchess also announced the next cohort of Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholars – including four students from Tanzania, Zambia and Nigeria who will study in South Africa – highlighting the life-changing opportunities these unique awards offer.

Three current Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholars from Kenya, Ghana and Canada currently studying at leading South African universities greeted The Duchess and also joined in today's discussions – they are: Simon Kiongo from Kenya, studying MSc Agronomy at the University of Pretoria, Margaret McDonald from Canada, studying MSc Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Cape Town and Joshua Kyeremateng from Ghana, studying LLM International Commercial Law at the University of Johannesburg.

The ACU is committed to supporting academic mobility across the Commonwealth – and through the Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships (QECS), we create opportunities for the next generation to effect change within their local communities and beyond.

Dr Joanna Newman, ACU Chief Executive and Secretary General, said: 'We're proud of the work our member universities in South Africa are doing to advance equity, support access to education and develop solutions to global challenges – from supporting women in STEM, to reaching marginalised communities, to tackling marine pollution – demonstrating the power of higher education to transform society.

'We're delighted that our Patron, HRH The Duchess of Sussex, joined us for these important discussions today, and we look forward to continue working together with our member universities to build a better world through higher education'.

More information

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About the ACU

The ACU is an international organisation dedicated to building a better world through higher education.

We believe that international collaboration is central to this ambition. By bringing universities together from around the world – and crucially the people who study and work within them - we help to advance knowledge, promote understanding, broaden minds, and improve lives.

We champion higher education as a cornerstone of stronger societies, supporting our members, partners, and stakeholders as they adapt to a changing world.

ACU Gender Grants

ACU Gender Grants are awarded annually to member universities to support initiatives that will boost gender equity and equality. Since the ACU Gender Grants were launched in 2016, 28 universities in 17 countries have benefited, and a minimum of 600 beneficiaries have participated in workshops supported by the grants.


Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships (QECS) provide life-changing opportunities for cultural exchange and academic collaboration, supporting students to study for a two-year Masters in unique environments across the globe.

The QECS are a unique opportunity for Commonwealth students to learn from each other's countries to deliver tangible results.

Full list of attendees

  • Ms Shelley Barry, Lecturer, Department of Journalism, Film and Television, University of Johannesburg; PhD student, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Prof Ahmed Bawa, Chief Executive Officer, Universities South Africa
  • HE Nigel Casey MVO, British High Commissioner to South Africa
  • Dr Beverley Damonse, Group Executive: Science Engagement and Corporate Relations, National Research Foundation
  • Ms Monica du Toit, Manager, Employment, Equity and Diversity Training, Stellenbosch University
  • Dr Sarah Fawcett, Senior Lecturer, Department of Oceanography, University of Cape Town
  • Ms Susana Galván, Country Director, British Council South Africa
  • Dr Mary Hames, Director, Gender Equity Unit, University of the Western Cape
  • Mr Simon Kiongo, Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholar from Kenya, University of Pretoria
  • Mr Joshua Kyeremateng, Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholar from Ghana, University of Johannesburg
  • Ms Tshiamo Legoale, Geologist and Researcher, Mintek; Global FameLab Winner 2017
  • Ms Boitumelo Mampane, MA student, University of Johannesburg
  • Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Johannesburg
  • Ms Margaret McDonald, Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholar from Canada, University of Cape Town
  • Ms Refilwe Mofokeng, PhD student, University of KwaZulu-Natal; 2019 ACU Blue Charter Fellow
  • Ms Kgomotso Mokoena, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Johannesburg; PhD student, University of the Western Cape
  • Dr Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic and Student Affairs, Rhodes University
  • Dr Linda Mtwisha, Senior Director, Strategic Research Initiatives and Administration, University of Johannesburg
  • Mr Edward Ndopu, United Nations SDG Advocate
  • Prof Funmi Olonisakin, Vice-President and Vice-Principal International, King's College London