Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the Council for Education in the Commonwealth (CEC)


1. The CEC welcomes the invitation to contribute to the FAC Inquiry 2012. This paper is a short response to those questions raised in the announcement of the Inquiry on which it feels legitimately able to comment. This means that the response is in some degree filtered by the CEC’s educational remit.

Background from a CEC perspective

2. The modern Commonwealth comprises a quarter of the world’s states and a third of its population. It promotes international cooperation, respect, peace and understanding between members to advance economies, social development, and human rights. Regardless of size, wealth and other diversity, Commonwealth members espouse shared values in their commitment to mutual support and well-being.

3. Over time, the Commonwealth has come to prioritise educational development in most of these areas, initially to encourage personal development and the self-sufficiency in administrative and other functions essential to nation-building in member states, especially those most recently independent.

4. As the one time metropolis and then an important investor in such development initiatives, returns to the UK have been notable. Peoples of the dominions and former colonies continue to collaborate, for mutual benefit, in the search for relevant policy, trade and the provision of goods and services, among which those for educational and training purposes remain important.

About the CEC

5. Based in the UK, CEC is a volunteer-led, non-government organisation accredited to the Commonwealth, with representation at Commonwealth Inter-Governmental and Civil Society meetings. Our honorary members include cross-party Chairs and Patrons (all of them British parliamentarians) and the Commonwealth High Commissions in London. Ordinary CEC members have varied, often distinguished, professional backgrounds, mainly in international human development, especially in education. UK government departments for education and international development have for years supported CEC advocacy and joined in CEC events.

6. Working together, the CEC promotes Commonwealth-wide education and training in all forms, at all levels,

alerting the British public to Commonwealth educational issues

facilitating policy-oriented discussion at meetings of Commonwealth Heads (CHOGMs) and Ministers of Education (CCEMs), Women’s Affairs (WAMM) and Youth(CYMM)

disseminating information and advocating strategy among the UK and other Governments, to further educational agendas across the Commonwealth community

collaborating with Commonwealth institutions (the Secretariat, the Foundation, the Commonwealth of Learning and the Consortium for Education) and those in other networks, also committed to international education and development.

7. All this work is inspired by the priority accorded education in Commonwealth member states, which is frequently the rationale for the, sometimes extensive, international movement between them.

8. Like nearly 100 other organisations, affiliated in different ways, CEC exists because it believes in the value of the Commonwealth as a force for dialogue between its varied member states, as a means of increasing well-being and reducing poverty. It perceives education as a key mechanism to enhance inclusion and social cohesion in very small island territories and in states like India and Pakistan, among the largest populations in the world.

The UK and CHOGM 2011

9. The 2011 CHOGM in Perth, reflected well on the UK. Whatever the unpublished benefits accruing from interaction between HoGs and others, the presence of the Queen as Head of State and Head of the Commonwealth of itself strengthened the meeting, while acclaim across the country for her visit should be taken as testimony to the Australian people’s continuing affection.

10. That the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary both attended CHOGM, leaving a summit struggling to resolve Europe’s financial crisis, confirms the Commonwealth’s priority.

11. The Foreign Minister’s direct interventions at the Commonwealth People’s Forum were well-received and assured greater delegate participation and meaningful debate.

UK benefits of Commonwealth membership

12. The UK’s knowledge of member states and their need for expertise over half a century has maintained demand for British educational services (advisors, academics, teachers, examinations and qualifications, materials, books and new electronic resources, etc), positioning the UK as an important supplier across sectors, with attendant social and economic returns.

13. Since the 1950s, the UK has been transformed by its diaspora communities, mainly of Commonwealth origin, with large numbers still arriving for short and medium-term educational purposes.

14. Several generations later, increasing numbers of British diaspora citizens are entering professional careers at all levels of the occupational range, contributing to the richness of contemporary UK culture and society.

15. At the same time, members of the diaspora communities typically maintain long-term links with their families’ countries of origin, with multi-way flows of human, cultural and material resources between them.

16. Of those trained in Britain, many have returned to senior positions in countries of origin and elsewhere, often with the UK a first port of call thereafter, for information, support and resources, frequently mediated by former teachers and advisors.

17. Similarly, thousands of Commonwealth Scholars and Fellows, many destined for illustrious careers, have studied at UK institutions. Their associates here have benefitted from their presence and later, as members of lifelong networks affording cross-national enterprise and support.

18. The UK benefits, politically, socially and economically, from the prestige of hosting the Commonwealth Secretariat and Foundation and from the presence of Commonwealth High Commissions in London.

19. Like other Commonwealth accredited bodies, the CEC, a small NGO, has on countless occasions contributed to UK and Commonwealth-wide policy events, through its parliamentary lectures, the publication of research, the organisation of public meetings (here and abroad) and, most recently, as a catalyst of the pan-Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan Endowment Fund.

20. In 2011, it held four UK meetings promoting the Commonwealth theme, Women as agents of Change, from educational perspectives. It is preparing for several more in 2012, examining the implications of Connecting Cultures for the Commonwealth’s educational work.

21. The success of all these events attests a high level of UK interest in the work of the Commonwealth today, not least among the sizeable constituency dedicated to international education and development. This interest is often accompanied by expressions of surprise at the loss to the UK of failure to feature the Commonwealth in British curricula, given its historical and contemporary importance, while it is regularly celebrated elsewhere.

22. At the invitation of the Commonwealth Foundation, CEC convened in London the European Consultation on Commonwealth Europe, in preparation for the Commonwealth Peoples’ Forum Statement and CHOGM 2011.

23. In 2012, it is working with civil society colleagues to support the Secretariat and the Foundation in planning the 18th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers and its associated Stakeholder Forum, meeting regularly with Mauritian officials in London and Port Louis.

What is the future?

24. Institutions have enduring functions, regardless of their organisational and material base. As an institution facilitating international relations distinctive from those of the organisations of global governance, the Commonwealth is endorsed by a growing number of the world’s territories, rich and poor, large and small, with new members and applicants neither Anglophone nor one time British colonies.

25. The concept will remain relevant, whatever the UK position, but continuing UK support will ensure the same from others and kudos for all as they openly subscribe to its ideals.

26. Withdrawing or significantly reducing its presence, the UK itself will be diminished, remaining on the sidelines of yet another international organisation, one with which it has shared a momentous history. Such a move will seriously weaken the options of members with the least capacity, if their links with the UK are curtailed.

27. With the changing geography of economic power, a hasty decision to reduce its engagement may mean that, in years to come, the UK will forfeit preferential employment opportunities, as they become available in Commonwealth states with newly thriving and expanding labour markets (India, Pakistan, even Malaysia and Singapore), as openings here dwindle, leaving young adults with few prospects and the attendant risk of social disorder.

28. Continuing UK support will mean continuing investment in the human development of Commonwealth Peoples, through education, health and other spheres of social, economic and political activity, with skill development and professionalization the principal input, within and between sectors, at whatever level. Protecting such commitment will crucially maintain the British expertise required to deliver such services, wherever needed, into the foreseeable future.

29. It should also contribute to raising a newly strategic Commonwealth profile in British educational institutions as they internationalise curricula, furthering extensive work already undertaken to equip younger generations with a general understanding of the case for ethnic, racial and religious tolerance, encouraging by example other member states to do likewise.

30. In such scenarios, there has to be adequate continuing support from members to guarantee effective, inspirational and practical leadership of Commonwealth institutions (particularly the Secretariat and the Foundation), sufficient to stem any resource-depleted decline and revitalise staff commitment, creativity and endeavour to ensure their sustainable future.

27 January 2012

Prepared 14th November 2012