Addressing global concerns requires higher education to step up immediately.

As voters in thirteen Commonwealth nations this year decide which issues to prioritize for the next ten years, focus shifts to the global effort to address global issues as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, which are expected to be fulfilled by 2030 and beyond.

Higher education is at the vanguard of this enormous undertaking, playing a crucial role in influencing how the world responds through research, leadership, and the facilitation of teaching and learning.

At the invitation of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) has taken a proactive stance, establishing a higher education taskforce comprised of 20 vice-chancellors across our 400+ institutional membership to address key challenges and recommendations declared by Education Ministers at their last Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) meeting in 2022.

Despite the huge differences and diversity of problems that persist across higher education, there are five key areas that remain consistent and need urgent attention across the Commonwealth.In particular, when it comes to addressing gender and equity inequities and results and making sure every person can realize their full potential, universities are at the forefront of generating innovative solutions to global concerns. Universities are engaged in vital work that goes beyond theoretical debates to real-world applications, highlighting the need for a comprehensive strategy to ensure that all students have equitable access to postgraduate and undergraduate education.

This entails clearing the obstacles to accessibility that prevent students with disabilities from pursuing higher education, examining the intersections of equality traits, filling in the knowledge gap regarding accessibility and disability, and drawing clear links between the ability to pursue higher education and positive economic outcomes. It is critical to address the gender gap in areas such as employability and the digital sphere, as well as to acknowledge the special requirements of migrant and indigenous populations. Furthermore, universities are essential for raising questions about restitution, discourse, and the moral validity of colonial legacies. Proactive steps to remove these obstacles must be given top priority by higher education institutions in order to promote an inclusive culture that celebrates diversity and guarantees equal chances for all.

The finance of higher education is in a precarious position globally, with many universities facing financial difficulties that limit their capacity to offer chances for high-quality instruction and research. Higher education urgently needs more and more finance, as evidenced by growing operating costs, technology improvements, and the growing need for qualified workers. Demonstrating the worth of higher education and advancing the general consensus that it is a public good are becoming more and more important.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and digital access bring potential and difficulties for higher education. Institutions need to adjust their curricula in light of the rapid integration of AI while addressing issues with data privacy, ethical AI use, and potential socioeconomic imbalances. To fully utilize AI for teaching and providing students with the necessary abilities, faculty development and training are now essential. Furthermore, it can be difficult to establish efficient digital infrastructure and AI-integrated learning environments without the necessary resources, particularly for institutions with limited funding.

A key component of higher education’s contribution to sustainable development is the pursuit of excellence in research. Persistent issues in research include striking a balance between the amount and quality of research, resolving inequalities in access, resources, and opportunities, and building assessment frameworks to measure research effect.

The changing nature of the labor market necessitates a reassessment of the contribution of higher education to entrepreneurship, employability, and skill development. Quick changes in technology mean that courses must be updated often to meet the demands of the industry. The growing intricacy of worldwide issues, like socioeconomic inequality and climate change, also puts pressure on colleges to impart a wide range of abilities, like critical thinking, flexibility, and intercultural competency, readying graduates for an uncertain job market.

These five areas will continue to be the taskforce’s primary focus over the next two years as we create a work plan that involves partners, stakeholders, and the knowledge of our membership to inform recommendations that will be presented to the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Samoa in November.

Vice chancellors and ministers of higher education will provide input to further refine these initiatives at a meeting in London in May 2024. Participants will feed into closed-door roundtables to offer creative solutions, share best practices, and work together to build understanding and address issues faced by governments in various regional contexts.Innovative solutions necessitate partner collaboration, thought leadership, and knowledge from sources beyond than a single organization, geographic area, or economic structure. We are all necessary for it. We are eager to collaborate with scholars and professionals from the ACU member institutions to support the taskforce’s efforts.