Global univer­sity net­work to be academy’s cheer­leader

As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­si­ties ‘to call at­ten­tion to what we do’. Matthew Reisz writes

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Matthew.reisz@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Joanna New­man be­gan her aca­demic ca­reer as a post­doc at the Univer­sity of Lon­don’s In­sti­tute of Com­mon­wealth Stud­ies. She has worked at a num­ber of uni­ver­si­ties, at the Bri­tish Li­brary, as direc­tor of Uni­ver­si­ties UK In­ter­na­tional and as vi­ceprin­ci­pal (in­ter­na­tional) at King’s Col­lege Lon­don, where she is still a se­nior re­search fel­low. Her new job, as direc­tor gen­eral of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­si­ties, takes her back to her orig­i­nal field – and an of­fice two min­utes down the road from where she started.

Dr New­man (pic­tured be­low) re­cently re­turned from a meet­ing of Com­mon­wealth youth min­is­ters in Uganda, which she attended as an of­fi­cial ob­server, but it is at the meet­ing of Com­mon­wealth ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ters in Fiji next Fe­bru­ary that she is due to sign an agree­ment with the Com­mon­wealth Sec­re­tariat fo­cus­ing on three ar­eas.

The first is around em­ploy­a­bil­ity and skills, where she said that the ACU is car­ry­ing out re­search on “what em­ploy­ers will need in a few years, in light of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence”. The sec­ond is con­cerned with “fos­ter­ing tol­er­ance of di­ver­sity and re­spect within uni­ver­si­ties”. This will build on the ACU’s re­cent State­ment of Shared Val­ues, which the as­so­ci­a­tion is ask­ing mem­ber uni­ver­si­ties to en­dorse and which Dr New­man “would like to see rolled out across the Com­mon­wealth, look­ing at re­gional chal­lenges, to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where our stu­dents can flour­ish”. And the third area ex­plores “the power of mo­bil­ity”, to be achieved both through “cre­at­ing more schol­ar­ships” and “a new pro­ject for a Com­mon­wealth-wide frame­work for mu­tual recog­ni­tion of qual­i­fi­ca­tions”.

The ACU al­ready ad­min­is­ters a num­ber of pro­grammes such as the Com­mon­wealth Schol­ar­ships, funded by the De­part­ment for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment, for cit­i­zens of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries who want to come for mas­ter’s or PhD study in the UK. It man­ages ca­pac­ity-build­ing ini­tia­tives such as Struc­tured Train­ing for African Re­searchers, funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung foun­da­tion, and an­other ini­tia­tive for sup­port­ing re­search on cli­mate change in Africa.

It also awards its own grants for emerg­ing aca­demics to at­tend con­fer­ences and fel­low­ships to pro­mote mo­bil­ity. A re­cent ex­am­ple saw a Cana­dian re­searcher trav­el­ling to the Univer­sity of the West Indies cam­pus in Bar­ba­dos to iden­tify ge­netic risk fac­tors for breast cancer among women with African an­ces­try. The re­searcher went on to set up her own cancer re­search lab­o­ra­tory once she had re­turned to McMaster Univer­sity.

‘ACU cham­pi­ons’

Al­though en­thu­si­as­tic about the work that the ACU al­ready does in “build­ing ca­pac­ity” and “seed­ing change”, Dr New­man be­lieves that it must do bet­ter in “call­ing at­ten­tion to what we do”. She would like each of its mem­ber in­sti­tu­tions – more than 500 in over 50 coun­tries – to em­ploy some­one specif­i­cally as an “ACU cham­pion”, most likely within the in­ter­na­tional of­fice, on at least a part-time ba­sis. This would en­able the as­so­ci­a­tion to “help uni­ver­si­ties en­hance their in­ter­na­tional strat­egy”, de­velop di­a­logue be­tween dif­fer­ent kinds of univer­sity and “ac­cess ex­perts on gen­der equal­ity, cli­mate, ca­pac­ity build­ing or hu­man re­sources”. This would then feed into a new se­ries of re­gional meetings built around the lo­cal “burn­ing is­sues”.

Since join­ing the ACU, Dr New­man has been in dis­cus­sion with the Coun­cil for At-Risk Aca­demics (Cara), which has a pro­gramme for find­ing posts in UK uni­ver­si­ties for per­se­cuted and refugee aca­demics. A forth­com­ing mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with the ACU will al­low Cara to ex­pand the scheme to in­clude in­sti­tu­tions right across the Com­mon­wealth.

While at King’s, Dr New­man spear­headed a pro­gramme called the Part­ner­ship for Dig­i­tal Learn­ing and In­creased Ac­cess to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion to refugee stu­dents in Jor­dan and Le­banon. The ACU is soon to launch an­other pro­ject funded by DfID, the Part­ner­ship for En­hanced and Blended Learn­ing, de­signed to “ad­dress the crit­i­cal aca­demic staff short­ages in many East African uni­ver­si­ties”. Dr New­man hopes that it may be pos­si­ble to find ways to ex­tend cov­er­age to the many aca­demics and stu­dents dis­placed within Africa.

She would also like to see the ACU, the world’s first in­ter­na­tional univer­sity net­work, play­ing a prom­i­nent part in global de­bates around the value of higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Al­though higher ed­u­ca­tion has been in­cluded in the United Na­tions’ Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals since 2015, Dr New­man said that she was con­cerned that, at a time of “tight­en­ing re­sources and ris­ing na­tion­al­ism, [and] more refugees than ever be­fore, [we hear in­creas­ing scep­ti­cism about] the power of higher ed­u­ca­tion to change things. Yet if you look at Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment, World Bank and United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific, and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion statis­tics, it’s clear that the coun­tries that invest in higher ed­u­ca­tion are far more se­cure places for their peo­ple to live and con­trib­ute.”

The ACU is ide­ally placed, she ar­gued, to help dis­sem­i­nate such ev­i­dence and to “ad­vo­cate for higher ed­u­ca­tion as a power for good – look at our mem­bers!”

‘Burn­ing is­sues’ the ACU sup­ports di­a­logue on top­ics such as cli­mate change

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