Institute of Commonwealth Studies gets reprieve while review held

Committee will identify potential partnerships and funding sources to support field in a possible victory for campaigners against closure

December 11, 2020
University of London Senate House
Source: iStock

The University of London is establishing a committee to conduct an inquiry into the future of Commonwealth studies at the institution, just months after its School of Advanced Study (SAS) said it was set to close its institute dedicated to the field.

In October, the SAS told Times Higher Education that it was consulting with staff over proposals to close the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and the Institute of Latin American Studies in a bid to save £1.5 million.

However, the University of London has now said that no decision on the future of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies will be made until the new committee has concluded its work.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who was foreign secretary under John Major between 1995 and 1997, will chair the committee, which is expected to meet for the first time in January and conclude its inquiry by the end of June.

The committee will consider future provision at the University of London for Commonwealth studies in terms of focus, purpose, structure and functions; recommend partnerships to support scholarship in this area and ensure its relevance and impact; and identify potential viable sources of sustainable funding beyond the university and short-term research grants.

A source with close links to the Institute of Commonwealth Studies told THE in October that the centre has “networks developed over decades” that cannot be replicated.

“It is extraordinary in the current climate, going into Brexit, that the SAS is closing down its two regional studies centres which have extraordinarily strong links with the Global South,” they said.

Wendy Thomson, vice-chancellor of the University of London, said that “over the last two months we’ve met with a range of stakeholders with Commonwealth affiliations who have shown a renewed interest in the future of the institute and a commitment to supporting the study of the modern Commonwealth at the university”.

“Sir Malcolm and the committee will be able to explore a range of new and exciting potential partnerships,” she added.

Sir Malcolm said that Commonwealth studies was “important to the future well-being of the Commonwealth” and that the committee would aim to make recommendations that will “work well for the University of London and strengthen the Commonwealth for the years ahead”.

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