Ministers back teaching centre

October 31, 2003

The Commonwealth this week cleared the path for the creation of a centre of excellence for teacher education at Cambridge University.

The plan was endorsed at the three-yearly meeting of Commonwealth education ministers, despite ongoing objections from supporters of the Commonwealth Institute's education role.

The Commonwealth secretary-general, Don McKinnon, and education ministers from Tanzania, Malawi, Lesotho and Tonga publicly endorsed the controversial plans to transfer the institute's education functions to the new centre.

Critics lobbied the ministers, meeting in Edinburgh, with their concerns over plans to fund the Centre for Commonwealth Education by selling the institute's London site.

The centre will concentrate on teacher education, which, critics said, could lead to a further reduction in the Commonwealth secretariat's own activities.

Two former director-generals of the institute are spearheading the campaign to gain ministers' support to channel part of the estimated £25 million from the sale to other Commonwealth education agencies.

Stephen Cox, now executive secretary of the Royal Society, and James Porter, his immediate predecessor, were among those who objected to the move and signed a memorandum that opposes it.

Other signatories included Michael Gibbons, secretary-general of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, and Stephen Matlin, former director of education and health at the Commonwealth secretariat.

They argue that the new centre's focus on practical teacher education issues will mean that the general promotion of education in Commonwealth countries will be lost.

The memorandum says: "We do not believe that this very large sum of money should all be used for the establishment of an academic centre in the UK that will have no impact on the vital function previously served by the institute."

But Mr McKinnon brushed aside the anxieties, giving the Cambridge plan a clear endorsement in his opening speech.

He told The THES : "At the previous heads of government meeting, leaders said they wanted to see more effort in governance-type activities and strategy.

He added: "The consequence of this is a broad realignment of activities in the secretariat and this has meant health and education in particular have not had the same resources."

While the critics acknowledge that the Cambridge programme will offer valuable help to Commonwealth education ministries, they say it has nothing to do with the fundamental objective of the institute to "educate young people about the Commonwealth".

The centre is due to be open by the 2004-05 academic year.

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