Network set up after 7-year inertia

May 30, 2003

A network of Commonwealth academics finally staged its first conference this week - seven years after the proposal was mooted and six years after securing support from Commonwealth education ministers.

The revival of the Association of Commonwealth Studies comes in time for this autumn's meeting of Commonwealth education ministers. Organisers will be able to cite the conference, at Dalhousie University campus in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as evidence of action.

Slow progress in making the network a reality has been a source of embarrassment in the field of Commonwealth studies. The proposal was specifically endorsed by the member countries' education ministers at their 1997 meeting in Botswana and by heads of government who met in Edinburgh the same year.

Thomas Symons, founding president of Trent University in Canada, proposed the Association of Commonwealth Studies in a 1996 report.

Two years later, a launch conference attracted more than 80 people. But difficulties precluded would-be members taking the project further until it was revived by Tim Shaw, incoming director of London University's Institute of Commonwealth Studies and fellow ICS academic Michael Twaddle, the association's secretary.

Professor Symons told The Thes: "Among the commission's recommendations was a proposal for the formation of an association for commonwealth studies, to foster teaching and research about the Commonwealth and to provide a professional body and forum for those engaged in this work."

• A centre for Commonwealth education is to be set up at Cambridge University, vice-chancellor Sir Alec Broers announced this week. It will be funded by the Commonwealth Institute, which has put its London building on the market.

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