Global Quangos Uncovered: Association of Commonwealth Universities

By: Callum McGoldrick, intern at the TaxPayers' Alliance


Higher education costs taxpayers £9.4 billion a year in the form of unpaid student loans alone, but the true cost is much greater. An under-reported cost of higher education is the millions pumped into quangos whose main job is to ‘aid’ universities in ensuring that they are progressive enough. 


One of the most costly of these organisations is the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU). The ACU currently exists to help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Global Development Goals and is listed as an official partner of UNESCO. 79 UK universities are members of the ACU. It received over £7 million from the government in the 2021/22 financial year. While many of the ACU’s goals seem perfectly reasonable, such as building a “better world through education” and  delivering “educational opportunities that make a positive and lasting difference”, many of its methods are often experimental at best… At worst they are activism for a political cause. 


The best example of this is the ‘Gender Grant’, which is a grant of £1000 given to staff of member universities who “promote gender equity” by “mainstreaming gender equity into the curriculum”.The ACU lists four methods by which to achieve this,  the only one which mentions both a gender and a form of education is ‘promoting women in research’.


The ACU’s focus on gender equality seems poorly matched with the demographics of the Higher Education sector. Roughly half of the universities in the UK are members of the ACU and here women make up three quarters of the people on teaching, subjects allied to medicine, psychology and veterinary science and 57 per cent of students overall. Women also achieve higher grades, with 33% of women achieving a first compared to 31% of men. In fact, many commonwealth nations already have a larger student population of women than men.In cases where female and male students simply have different preferences for what they want to learn or teach, taxpayers are paying the bill for the impossible task of ironing out the difference. 


The ACU has given out these ‘Gender Grants’ to at least 800 people at 49 universities in 22 countries including staff at the University of Victoria (Canada) and to universities in Australia. The grant has also been awarded to staff at UK universities, such as one at the University of Aberdeen to devise a plan to “deliver an educational programme around transgender awareness to support and promote our new Transgender Equality Policy for staff and students”.


While this method of ‘development’ may fit into the definition of development given by the UN, it would undoubtedly be better to fund actual education projects in deprived places around the world. Canada and Australia (along with Singapore, New Zealand and other developed commonwealth member nations) are more than wealthy enough to fund these programmes themselves without the British taxpayers footing the bill. 


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