First woman president for Commonwealth of Learning

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) has appointed its first female president. The Vancouver- and Delhi-based organisation announced this week that Asha Kanwar (pictured), its current vice-president, will succeed Sir John Daniel when he steps down as president and chief executive officer at the end of May.

Kanwar has more than 30 years of experience in teaching, research and administration. In addition to several books, research papers and articles, she has made significant contributions to gender studies, especially the impact of distance education on the lives of Asian women.

These studies have established that better educational opportunities and access to new technologies have made substantial differences to the attitudes, values and concerns of Asian women.

She is also the recipient of several awards and fellowships, including the International Council for Distance Education Prize of Excellence.

The former Jamaican education minister, Burchell Whiteman, chair of COL's board of governors, said: “With her profound knowledge and rich experience of open and distance learning and her vision for the Commonwealth of Learning in the medium term, I expect that she will take COL to a new level through a process of significant and sustainable evolutionary change.

"Her personal attributes and her international profile should prove to be valuable assets."

Kanwar joined COL in 2003 as its higher education specialist and became vice-president in 2006. Her current role includes specific responsibility for stakeholder engagement and programme direction.

Her career includes a period as director of the school of humanities at Indira Gandhi National Open University in India, where she was pro-vice chancellor from 1999 to 2000.

Before joining COL, she worked in Africa as a consultant in open and distance learning at UNESCO's Regional Office for Education in Africa in Dakar, Senegal.

"COL is a unique organisation, which has the ability to respond to the needs of a wide range of stakeholders from the Batwa community in the forests of Uganda, the rural women in Malawi, goat herders in India, construction workers in Nauru and out-of-school youth in Jamaica to ministries and tertiary institutions across the Commonwealth," Kanwar said.

“Being relevant to such a diverse constituency and delivering results is both a challenge and an opportunity that I look forward to."

Daniel commented: "I am very pleased that Asha will succeed me." He said she had made an immense contribution to COL, "bringing greater focus to our programme and inspiring many more governments to support COL financially. I am delighted that COL will have a woman as president for the first time."

COL was created by Commonwealth heads of government at their meeting in Vancouver in 1987 to encourage the development and sharing of open learning and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. The Commonwealth comprises 54 countries, most of which are developing nations, and encompasses a quarter of the world's population.