The ACU has always been dedicated to promoting knowledge and equality but, as its centenary approaches, it must set its sights higher, writes Kottilil Mohandas
The Universities Bureau of the British Empire embarked on its voyage of destiny 93 years ago with a membership of 53. The empire may be a distant memory, but membership of what would become the Association of Commonwealth Universities now stands at 500. And its aims are as relevant today as they were in 1913.
The ACU has always served as an agency for gathering and distributing information on all aspects of higher education, and one of its founding objectives was to promote its members' interests internationally.
Today, "globalisation" is a buzzword and the relevance of the Commonwealth is often disputed, so it has become necessary for the ACU to define its role clearly.
Perhaps its most important function is to enable member universities to share educational resources. Several programmes to encourage student mobility, faculty exchange and training of university administrators have helped to achieve this. Although the Commonwealth encompasses some of the world's most developed and some of the least developed countries, they share a common language and similar educational systems. These are key factors in the ACU's success.
Social inequality is a universal phenomenon that often transcends national and developmental barriers. Perhaps the most glaring example is gender inequality. The ACU is presently examining key gender issues in higher education.
Although Commonwealth institutions are engaged in research intended to benefit mankind generally, students are their raison d'etre. In future programmes and policies, the ACU must continue to focus on the health and welfare of that student body.
In sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/Aids is devastating the population and has claimed the lives of many in higher education. Such health issues inevitably have economic and developmental consequences, but their impact could be minimised or eliminated through proper health education programmes. University campuses are ideal places to implement such programmes. It is hoped that "campus health" will become a priority of the ACU.
The ACU should also explore the possibilities of organising Commonwealth-wide student programmes in sports, arts and culture, as well as staging academic and intellectual competitions. Such activities would promote understanding, tolerance and goodwill among the youth of the Commonwealth countries and contribute to world peace and harmony.
Universities play a major role in national development and students are the key. "Vision 2013" will commemorate the ACU's centenary and is expected to chart the association's course in the second century of its existence.
The universities of the Commonwealth must seize this opportunity to work towards equity in education and pave the way for a more just and rewarding future for our young people and, through them, the rest of humankind.
Kottilil Mohandas is chair of the ACU and director of the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, India.
Association of Commonwealth Universities supplement
Commonwealth university vice-chancellors will have more than the wine of South Australia's celebrated vineyards on their minds when they gather in Adelaide on April 9-12.
The Association of Commonwealth Universities is at one of the most critical turning points in its near-century history.
This supplement, which is published with the support of the University of Queensland to mark the 2006 executive heads meeting, celebrates the ACU's many achievements. However, altruism is no longer enough to justify the membership fee. ACU leaders must address the challenges of a changing world.