Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the Association of Commonwealth Universities

Executive Summary

Education is an area in which the Commonwealth can make a direct and lasting improvement to individual lives, through, for example, scholarships, exchanges, and networks.

This submission reflects the ACU’s perspective on tertiary education, but the values, principles, and practical changes which Commonwealth links enable could also apply to educational cooperation at other levels.

The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) stands as one of the Commonwealth’s most well-known and prestigious activities. Over 29,000 Commonwealth Scholars and Fellows across the Commonwealth have benefited from the CSFP since 1959.

One way of enhancing the Commonwealth’s value would be to connect the various ministerial-level meetings where there are overlapping policy agendas – for example, in issues of trade, employment, and immigration, all of which relate to education policy.

Educational links and diplomatic objectives are complementary. Academic collaboration and mobility helps to create intellectual and cultural ties that in turn link closely to diplomatic ones, just as effective diplomatic connections facilitate contacts (and markets) in education.

Respect for human rights – a core value of the Commonwealth – is linked to support for and achievement in education. Supporting the development and capacity of tertiary education through collaboration and mobility can therefore have a powerful impact on the values which societies adopt.

The Commonwealth’s future depends on the young and on the development of strong and enduring links based on cultural understanding, intellectual exchange, and promotion of the core principles embodied by the Commonwealth. The tertiary sector acts as an important avenue for achieving these objectives

The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU)

1. The ACU is a membership association of 533 higher education institutions (HEIs) across the Commonwealth; currently two-thirds of its members are based in Africa and Asia. Established in 1913, the ACU is the oldest international inter-university network in the world, with nearly a century’s experience of promoting academic links and international educational cooperation.

2. The role of education, at all levels, has always been an important focus for the Commonwealth. The first Commonwealth Education Conference was held in 1959 and since then international mobility and collaboration in education has increased rapidly, helping facilitate greater connectivity across the Commonwealth. At a time when international relations and networks are critical to the national interest, educational links are central to both the role and the future of the Commonwealth. Moreover, education is an area in which the Commonwealth, as a supportive network, can make a direct and lasting improvement to individual lives. The following reflects the ACU’s perspective on tertiary education, but the values, principles, and practical changes which Commonwealth links enable could also apply to educational cooperation at other levels.

Introduction

3. For many years, the UK has valued and benefited from its academic links with countries in the Commonwealth. Many university systems were modelled on the UK’s own, often with similar governance structures, entry requirements, pedagogic models, and exam systems. The official language of instruction in most Commonwealth tertiary systems, and indeed in which much research is disseminated, is English. These structural and linguistic ties have encouraged and sustained enduring links and mobility between the UK and other Commonwealth countries. The increasingly international character of tertiary education and the well-established arguments around its development impact make it an important vehicle for strengthening the ties within and reinforcing values espoused by the Commonwealth.

4. In recent years, the tertiary education ties between the UK and the European Union (EU) have been prioritised. Provisions for fees, visas, credit transfer, scholarships, fellowships, and collaborative research funding, reinforced by the Bologna Process, have all supported greater mobility and academic linkages within the EU. Yet many Commonwealth countries, and their schemes for reciprocal exchange which would benefit the UK, have not received comparable support. Recent decisions to control student migration could also affect talent flows from particular regions.

5. Currently there is already significant activity aimed at supporting tertiary education within the Commonwealth – some through established organisations and systems, others through informal but no less influential links. Examples include:

(a)The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP), on which there is a separate submission from the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK, emerged from the first Commonwealth Education Conference and has had a powerful impact at an individual and institutional level – from careers in government, business, and the third sector to joint research and shared academic projects. Educational scholarships cover not simply the exchange of staff/students, but also the fostering of research interests, and mid-career and professional study opportunities. Over 29,000 Commonwealth Scholars and Fellows across the Commonwealth have benefited from the CSFP since 1959; the substantial indirect impact through the spread of values, sympathies, and cultural/intellectual exchange, as well as the direct benefits of individual career development, has been analysed in a series of regional and sector-based evaluation studies.

(b)At undergraduate level, opportunities for student exchanges have been supported, since 1993, through the Commonwealth Universities Study Abroad Consortium (CUSAC).

(c)In terms of higher education management, the increasing need for comparative assessments of universities has been realised through regular benchmarking workshops organised by the ACU.

(d)Since 1985, the ACU’s Gender Programme has sought to enhance and support the participation of women in the leadership and management of higher education.

(e)Several professional networks have also been developed by the ACU in recent years; these link university staff involved in research management, human resources, communications, libraries, and graduate employment Commonwealth-wide.

(f)Separately, the work of the Canada-based Commonwealth of Learning (COL) has promoted open and distance learning across the Commonwealth, facilitating greater flexibility and greater reach of education at all levels.

What is the future of the Commonwealth and what reforms are needed if the Commonwealth is to be successful?

6. As noted, there are many links and partnerships between the UK and Commonwealth countries in the field of tertiary education. There could, however, be more coherence between Commonwealth activity at ministerial level and programmes and initiatives that happen on the ground; these, after all, present a visible and tangible profile of what the Commonwealth is and does. The opportunities for the Commonwealth to enhance its relevance by building on and actively supporting tertiary sector relationships are many and varied.

7. At a practical level, continued commitments to scholarship and fellowship schemes, particularly those such as the CSFP – the only Commonwealth-wide award programme – represent an important and enduring role for the Commonwealth. The continuing value of such investment is substantial, and the lead which the UK gives can inspire further support from other Commonwealth governments.

8. The role which the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) can play, whether through regional or professional associations, development-related schemes, or directly through educational institutions, is likewise significant – education is an aspect of many CFTC initiatives.

9. The prominence which tertiary education as a means of economic and social development is now receiving at policy level (spearheaded by the World Bank’s renewed commitment to tertiary education) represents an opportunity for the Commonwealth, given its role in development and the significance of student mobility between Commonwealth states.

10. The revival of cooperative programmes, such as that represented in the past by the Commonwealth Higher Education Support Scheme (CHESS) would be just one way of promoting and maintaining the value of higher education.

11. At an administrative level, one way of enhancing the Commonwealth’s value would be to clarify, and so connect, the different roles of the various ministerial-level meetings (education, finance, health). Since education policy now extends to issues of trade, employment, immigration, health, and IT, among others, there is an argument for some of the ministerial meetings to be more flexible and complementary. Linking their agendas to other meetings, whether international (for example, the G8, G20, EU) or donor-led (World Bank) conferences, could help promote the perspective of the Commonwealth outside its own network.

12. Support for ongoing research and analysis as a way of informing reform, not simply through one-off or commissioned reports for specific meetings, may also support incremental and achievable change. This approach would also allow for input into the issues which the Commonwealth could recognise as priorities and needs. The involvement of focused working groups could be encouraged.

Does the Commonwealth retain a purpose and value? How has the Perth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting impacted upon this purpose and value?

13. Events such as CHOGM and the Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM), and its equivalents for other sectors, are very good at putting forward and promoting the values of the Commonwealth and presenting it as an international, rather than London/UK-centric, organisation. They also provide particular opportunities for smaller nations to have a voice and work together (for example, small island states). However, it is in the programmes, initiatives, and organisations it supports that the Commonwealth will find purpose and tools for realising those values.

14. The report of the Eminent Persons Group to CHOGM recommended that greater attention should be given to youth in the Commonwealth, recommending the creation of a Commonwealth Youth Corps. It also emphasised the importance of the CSFP, while lamenting the lack of participation from countries outside of the UK, arguing for a centralised body to coordinate and support the Plan more widely. This role of supporting young people and helping to nurture future leaders in a range of fields would seem vital to the future role, relevance, and survival of the Commonwealth (especially as nearly half of those living within it – almost one billion – are under 18).

15. CHOGM and the other ministerial conferences have an important role to play in setting the agenda, and also in hearing and being informed by practitioners on the ground. Examples from the CCEM include the establishment of parallel streams which represent the views of different interest groups, such as teachers, vice-chancellors, students/youth, and civil society. Translating these agenda-setting meetings into positive actions is an important challenge for both the ministers and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

16. From a UK perspective, partnerships with other areas of government (for example, initiatives of the Department for International Development or the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) could operate effectively through mechanisms of Commonwealth. Presenting and branding existing activities that link the UK with other Commonwealth countries under the Commonwealth banner will be an important part of building awareness and support for the Commonwealth in the long term.

How does membership of the Commonwealth help the UK achieve its diplomatic objectives?

17. Educational links and diplomatic objectives are complementary. Academic collaboration and mobility helps to create intellectual and cultural ties that in turn link closely to diplomatic ones, just as effective diplomatic connections facilitate contacts (and markets) in education. The Commonwealth complements powerful multilateral institutions (such as UNESCO and the World Bank), regional groups (such as the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) and the EU), and NGOs with defined professional or subject interests. As a network it can overlap with these, with a particular role in reflecting the positions of some of the smaller and more marginalised countries in the global landscape (some 32 of the Commonwealth’s members are small states).

18. There are opportunities to expand and promote UK education across the Commonwealth through greater student and staff mobility. The many direct benefits of such educational links are well established, not least greater cultural understanding and reinforced intellectual and cultural ties between the Commonwealth’s many diverse countries. Moreover, education partnerships and collaborations not only enrich the UK tertiary sector, but also help strengthen tertiary sectors elsewhere. This is perhaps especially important in low-income and emerging economies, where tertiary education has a special role to play in contributing to social and economic development.

19. Through the tertiary sector, the Commonwealth is well placed to promote and encourage diplomacy through science, research collaboration, and academic engagement, particularly as a voluntary association of independent states. This is particularly important when many policy issues and research challenges are now global, for example, climate change, public health, food security, national security, and health. Moreover, the opportunity to retain or even develop contacts between countries when more formal ties have been cut is one which education can realise, perhaps uniquely. Research links can continue informally, using current media, whether based on established networks or projects held in common. The ACU has had an added strength in this respect, in that its members are university institutions not states, allowing some form of academic support, and a valuable perspective, to be maintained in countries where diplomatic ties have been weakened or withdrawn altogether (Zimbabwe represents one notable example).

What benefits does the UK’s membership of the Commonwealth bring in terms of trade?

20. The tertiary education ties in the Commonwealth have both a direct benefit on trade – through the trade in education services – and an indirect benefit – through the cultural ties and goodwill generated among international students, some of whom will go on to be leaders in business and industry, as well as government.

21. In an OECD study, of those countries listed as each receiving more than 5% of all foreign students worldwide, three are Commonwealth member states – Australia, Canada, and the UK.1 Some 77% of Indian citizens enrolled abroad study in just three countries – Australia, the UK, and the US. Key motivating factors are the use of English, the quality of education, and cost. “Language and academic traditions [also] explain the propensity for English-speaking students to concentrate in other countries of the Commonwealth or in the United States, even those that are distant geographically.”2

22. The Global Innovation Index 2011 lists three Commonwealth countries in its overall top 10: Singapore, Canada, and the UK – and, if ranked by income group, Malaysia leads that for upper-middle-income countries, Ghana that for low-income countries.3

23. Several studies now estimate national export income from international education activity. In Australia, it contributed some AUD 16.3 billion to the national economy in 2010-2011; it is the country’s largest services export industry.4 A figure of £14.1 billion was given for the UK (in 2008-2009), with estimates of £21.5 billion in 2020 and £26.6 billion in 2025.5 A Canadian report estimates that international students spent over CAD 6.5 billion on tuition, accommodation and discretionary spending, creating over 83,000 jobs in 2008.6

What benefits does the UK’s membership of the Commonwealth bring in terms of the promotion of human rights?

24. Respect for human rights – a core value of the Commonwealth – is linked to support for and achievement in education. Supporting the development and capacity of tertiary education through collaboration and mobility can therefore have a powerful impact on the values which societies adopt. UNESCO’s 1998 World Declaration on Higher Education held that higher education provides for individual development and social mobility, and educates the citizenship for active participation in society, contributing to the consolidation of human rights, sustainable development, democracy, and peace in a context of social justice.7

25. The report Assessing impact in building and sustaining Commonwealth principles on democracy was issued last year as part of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK’s series of evaluation studies. Social inequalities and human rights is one of the areas surveyed, showing the contribution of Commonwealth Scholars and Fellows who have studied in the UK, whether through associated projects or in influencing government thinking and policy. 47% of respondents, who had held a variety of awards, indicated that they had an impact in at least one of the four key priority areas supporting democratic principles, with a strong upward trend over the last 50 years.

26. The ACU’s contact with member universities has also enabled it to address contentious issues of social change and engagement, notably with conferences in Northern Ireland (2003) and South Africa (2010). Speakers included Mary Robinson (“the single most important task of the university lies in teaching the skills which students need to be responsible citizens”) and Albie Sachs. The 2010 conference incorporated perspectives on post-conflict reconciliation from Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe, while last year’s conference (in Hong Kong) also marked a closer link with CARA (the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics).

27. Several ACU and CSFP initiatives have been organised in recent years to coincide with the formal Commonwealth calendar. The first Commonwealth Summer School (held in Cameroon, July 2011), in which education and democracy was a recurrent theme, proposed a Pan-Commonwealth Students Union. The events were part-coordinated with the Commonwealth Youth Programme, anticipating related Commonwealth meetings (notably the Commonwealth People’s Forum at CHOGM). Previous ACU initiatives include a Commonwealth Scholars’ meeting to coincide with the Edinburgh CHOGM (1997). An HIV/AIDS programme (“Making a difference”) was developed, including a symposium immediately preceding the 1999 CHOGM (Durban), which was valuable in seeking to promote collaborative research and awareness between universities.

What benefits does the UK’s membership of the Commonwealth bring in terms of the promotion of “soft power” and a positive image of the UK?

28. In terms of soft power, the UK is at a particular advantage, given its widely acknowledged strength and success in two key, and often complementary, sectors – education and the cultural/creative industries. The Commonwealth Secretary-General has previously acknowledged that the CSFP is one of the most recognisable “brands” of the Commonwealth, together with the Commonwealth Games and Her Majesty The Queen. By various measures, the UK has one of the most successful and highly-regarded higher education systems in the world. Commonwealth initiatives to promote collaboration and mobility through the tertiary sector help to highlight this. As we have emphasised throughout this submission, the Commonwealth’s future depends on the young and on the development of strong and enduring links based on cultural understanding, intellectual exchange, and promotion of the core principles embodied by the Commonwealth. The tertiary sector acts as an important avenue for achieving these objectives.

19 January 2012

1 OECD, Education at a Glance (2011), p.319

2 OECD, p.328

3 INSEAD, Global Innovation Index (2011), pp.16-17

4 Australian Education International (AEI), Research Snapshot—Export Income to Australia from Education Services in 2010–11 (November 2011)

5 UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Estimating the value to the UK of education exports (2011), pp. 9–10

6 Roslyn Kunin & Associates, Inc. for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), Economic impact of international education in Canada (2009), p.iii

7 UNESCO, World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century: Vision and Action (1998)
<http://www.unesco.org/education/educprog/wche/declaration_eng.htm>

Prepared 14th November 2012