Commonwealth told fees block mobility

September 21, 2001

A confidential document circulated to Commonwealth leaders in advance of next month's heads of government conference in Brisbane recognises that tuition fees represent a barrier to mobility across its 54 member states.

The document calls for the involvement of the private sector to increase uptake of schemes that are designed to improve access.

The top-level review group chaired by South African president Thabo Mbeki concentrates on the ability of the Commonwealth and its officials to enforce principles of democracy and governance.

But it recognises the value of the Commonwealth as a network for the exchange and dissemination of knowledge - particularly in information and communications technologies.

The Mbeki report will help to keep the issue of tuition fees smouldering. There has been resentment in some quarters that European Union students from wealthy backgrounds are eligible for home student fee levels while citizens of developing countries in the Commonwealth are not.

A draft of the report states: "We wish to encourage... the movement of students and young people around the Commonwealth.

"A major challenge to young people is the high cost of tertiary education in Commonwealth countries and the inability of many member countries to offer scholarships on a regular basis."

The draft says: "Commonwealth governments, in conjunction with the private sector, should explore opportunities for enhanced access by Commonwealth students to higher institutions of education... in Commonwealth countries."

It suggests that the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships Plan should be more flexible to ensure that all member states have an opportunity to take part.

John Kirkland, executive secretary of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission UK, which administers the United Kingdom's involvement in CSFP, said: "We have to keep pressing individual countries to put money into the scheme."

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