A Guide to the Contemporary Commonwealth

By W. David McIntyre | Go to book overview

17
The Commonwealth of Learning

In a quiet suite of offices in Vancouver, BC, the Commonwealth’s least-known major agency may be found at work in comfortable, if remote, surroundings. The Commonwealth of Learning (COL in the argot) came into being in 1989 to fulfil one of the most visionary proposals ever put before the Heads of Government. It remains outside the purview of most people, partly because of its physical remoteness, but also because of its somewhat grandiose and ambiguous title, which does not really convey the intentions of its progenitors. The name derives from the short title of a report which proposed something different.

The report by an expert group and approved by the 1987 Chogm, was about cooperation in distance education and open learning. Subtitled Towards a Commonwealth of Learning, it actually proposed the creation of a ‘University of the Commonwealth for Cooperation in Distance Education’. This title described the practical intention. If it had been adopted, the COL’s profile might have become greater.

As with so many of the developments we have discussed, the idea arose out of crisis – in this case crisis caused by economic restructuring in the wealthier member countries. Literacy, education and training, especially in technical and professional fields, had long been accepted as vital keys to development. The founding fathers of the new Asian-African-Caribbean nations had nearly all been students in Britain or North America at one time. Founding university colleges in Africa had been an important postwar British policy. Increased assistance for higher education and professional training had been part of the Way Ahead proposals in 1964 which led to the creation of the Secretariat and the Foundation. Prestigious scholarships, such as those at Oxford awarded by the Rhodes Trust, or those from the Cambridge

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