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Commonwealth report urges governments to strengthen student voices

17 November 2016

National student unions across the Commonwealth should be better resourced and expanded, in order to strengthen their voice.

That’s the conclusion of the State of Student Governance in the Commonwealth report, a joint research initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the UK’s National Union of Students.

The report finds that, across the 52 Commonwealth member states, national student organisations (NSOs) face challenges related to falling membership, inconsistent financing and resourcing, and a lack of support from their respective governments.

It also highlights that over half (51 per cent) of member countries do not have a NSO of any kind.

Katherine Ellis, Director of Youth at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said the report and its recommendations represented a “tremendous opportunity” to ensure that NSOs are active, engaged and influential.

“Students are the most significant stakeholder group when it comes to education, yet wide-ranging police changes are often agreed without consulting them,” she said. “This is increasingly important considering the current global rate of change, and the constant rise of new technologies.”

One hundred and forty students and education personnel were surveyed in the development of the report, which issues three main policy recommendations:

  1.     Increase the number of NSOs in the Commonwealth, in partnership with government ministries and authorities in the education sector
  2.     Increase the effectiveness and sustainability of NSOs by developing organisational development
  3.     Raise awareness of student organisations globally, nationally and locally.

The report was commissioned following the 18th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) in Mauritius in 2012. Preliminary findings were presented at the 19th CCEM in The Bahamas in 2015, where Commonwealth governments recognised student governance as a valuable means of promoting student engagement. The meeting also welcomed the establishment of the Commonwealth Students Association (CSA), which represents student organisations nationally and across the Commonwealth.

Joshua Griffith, Chairman of the CSA Steering Committee said, “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has positioned quality education as one of 17 global goals. However, the power of student organisations to sustainably influence society remains undervalued. National student bodies must be engaged in decision-making if we are to register real progress.”

The report was presented to the Steering Committee of the 20th CCEM which met before the 2018 conference in Fiji. According to Dr Joanna Nurse, head of health and education at the Commonwealth Secretariat, the report will inform Commonwealth policy and programming with respect to student education and participation. The CSA has begun to create a related toolkit.

She said, “Supporting young people, including through education and learning, is integral to the work of the Commonwealth Secretariat. I hope this report will not only be of value to NSOs, but also to ministries, universities and the education sector as a whole.”

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