The Commonwealth of Nations was established in 1949 and is comprised of fifty-three independent countries across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Pacific, representing roughly one-third of the world’s population. As an outgrowth of the former British Empire, the Commonwealth today seeks to unite its diverse member states through a set of common goals and values, including democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Among other initiatives, Commonwealth countries have attempted to establish a set of uniform quality standards for both primary and higher education through a subgroup known as the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). The organization’s objectives include improving educational access through distance education and open learning programs.
Universities from thirty-seven member states are also members of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), the world’s first and oldest international university network. With more than five hundred member institutions, the ACU promotes cooperation between universities in areas like research and scholarships, and seeks to establish best practices in the field of higher education.
Notably, many Commonwealth countries model their higher education systems after that of the United Kingdom. Higher education is divided by undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Courses are commonly held in universities or constituent colleges, and are also taught in specialist art institutions, business schools, and agricultural colleges.
Students in some Commonwealth countries, including Singapore and Tanzania, complete either a thirteenth year of high school or a set of comprehensive post-secondary examinations comparable to the “A Level” examinations in the United Kingdom. Bachelor’s degrees generally require three years for completion, though some programs may require four years or more. Entry to postgraduate programs usually requires an undergraduate qualification. Master’s programs are typically completed in 1 to 3 years, and doctoral programs generally require at least 3 years of full-time study. Lower-level undergraduate qualifications, including a variety of National Diplomas, Higher National Diplomas, certificates, and other professional qualifications are also widely available in Commonwealth countries.
Membership in the Commonwealth is entirely voluntary, and it remains the responsibility of individual member states to set their own standards and structures for higher education. This means that while there are many similarities between the higher education systems of Commonwealth countries, there is also tremendous diversity, reflecting the specific educational needs and goals of each member state.