Commonwealth consortium to offer youth development degree

An initiative aimed at improving access to certified courses in youth work has been launched by Commonwealth countries which will support 16 universities from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Europe to offer a low-cost, internationally recognised Commonwealth bachelor degree in youth development work.

The Commonwealth Higher Education Consortium for Youth Work was formally launched by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the opening ceremony of the Ninth Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting in Kampala, Uganda on 1 August. It was established by four partners: the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth of Learning, the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and YMCA George Williams College in the United Kingdom.

“This initiative will help to build a new cadre of highly skilled and educated youth workers in Commonwealth countries, contributing to the growing professionalisation of the youth work sector globally,” said Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland at the launch.

The need to enhance youth work education and training comes as many Commonwealth countries are experiencing a bulge in their youth population, and the potential opportunities and risks related to large populations of young people are increasingly recognised.

The Commonwealth Bachelor Degree in Youth Development Work builds on a longstanding diploma-level qualification offered through the University of the West Indies, which was first introduced in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat two decades ago.

Denise Richards, programme coordinator at the University of the West Indies, said the consortium will attract students in communities that do not have access to quality tertiary level training and education programmes.

“This has the potential to create and sustain an educated workforce and lifelong learning opportunities for advancement that would not be possible if individual institutions attempted to develop and offer all of the education and training programmes that are most needed in their country,” said Richards.

The 16 initial participating universities are Bangladesh Open University, Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning, Maseno University in Kenya, University of Nairobi, University of Malawi, University of Malta, Namibia College of Open Learning, University of Sierra Leone, University of Venda in South Africa, Open University of Sri Lanka, Makerere University, YMCA George Williams College in the UK, University of Guyana (Turkeyen Campus) of Guyana, Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development of India, and the University of the West Indies in Jamaica.

The agreement to establish the consortium was first made at the 19th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in the Bahamas in 2015. At the Commonwealth Youth Work Conference in March 2016, 16 universities joined as members. Last year in South Africa academic institutions from across the Commonwealth agreed on a partnership to increase access to youth work education and training globally.

In their declaration at the meeting, youth ministers said they would pursue policies to promote the professionalisation of youth work and promote youth and social entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, as well as innovative financing mechanisms, such as youth impact bonds. They agreed to encourage the private sector to “take steps to address the skills gap and provide more apprenticeships and decent entry-level jobs for young people”.

Responding to the concerns of the youth leaders about a “digital divide” and the rise of disruptive technologies, the ministers agreed to take steps to promote digital literacy and skills training and education, and mainstream youth priorities across all stages of policy-making and public spending.