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Setting direction for the UWC movement: Understanding the role of the International Board

Julian Whiteley, Former Head of College, UWCSEA
10 November 2015

UWC locations as at August 2014

“Education must enable young people to effect what they have recognised to be right, despite hardships, despite dangers, despite inner skepticism, despite boredom, and despite mockery from the world …”  Kurt Hahn

As a member of the UWC movement, the College is guided by the educational philosophy of Kurt Hahn, and by the UWC mission to make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. As we make this mission come alive in our context, and provide our students with the educational experience Hahn envisioned for them, the thirteen other schools and colleges in the movement are doing the same in their various parts of the world. Given that some UWC schools only enrol students for Grades 11 and 12, while others educate from Kindergarten to Grade 12, that some are located in remote settings such as a castle in Wales, while others are situated in vibrant cities like Maastricht, that some have as many as 5,200 students while others have only 180, what keeps us together as a movement? If we are tasked to interpret the UWC mission for our context, who is providing the oversight to ensure that we are true to the values and intention of the movement?

The short answer to these important questions is the International Board. Whilst all of the Colleges have their own Boards and are independent entities, the International Board is responsible for the governance of the UWC movement as a whole. As such, it has the unenviable task of bringing together the 14 colleges that make up the membership, along with the various other components such as the national committees (who recruit and select scholars in their countries), so that we reach consensus on crucial issues.

The Board, chaired by Sir John Daniel O.C., consists of 16 members of whom three are College Chairs, two are College Heads, three must have experience of working with the national committees and at least five must be UWC alumni. In order to conduct their business they usually meet three times a year and this February we were privileged to host them in Singapore.

The International Board has responsibility for defining the ethos and strategic direction of the UWC movement. Trying to make the intangible tangible is challenging at the best of times and while we all recognise what a UWC education looks like, teasing out the component parts that make up the whole is no easy task. Over recent years a number of documents have been written that encapsulate what it means to be a UWC. The first of these is a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines an understanding between the constituent colleges and UWC International regarding their respective roles and responsibilities within the UWC movement. This memorandum allows the Board and the colleges to work productively and ensures that they are mutually supportive. The Guiding Principles for colleges are based upon Kurt Hahn’s original thoughts and detail the basic principles from which the practice of education at each college is derived. The recently agreed Educational Model provides a coherent way for us to describe that practice. All three of these documents complement the UWCSEA guiding principles (made up of educational goal, ambition, learning principles and profile).

As with any Board, the International Board is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the UWC movement and maintaining an oversight of its implementation. The current strategic plan contains six objectives:

  • ensure that UWC’s model of education maintains relevance and becomes more widely known as an example of education for a peaceful and sustainable future
  • extend UWC’s impact
  • strengthen and develop the UWC national committee system
  • create a secure and sustainable financial and funding model
  • increase awareness, recognition and understanding of UWC
  • continue to strengthen organisational effectiveness and unity

All six are being pursued concurrently but perhaps the most significant is extending the impact of the movement through the creation of new colleges. In September 2014, two new colleges will open their doos. UWC Robert Bosch in the city of Freiberg, Germany, will cater for 200 IB Diploma students and the UWC Dilijan, Armenia, which will eventually grow into a school for 650 students aged 13–19. The following year UWC Changshu, just outside Shanghai, is also due to open and at capacity will have 500 students from Grades 10 through 12. The proactive approach the Board is taking to expansion is likely to mean more colleges coming on line in the near future. While this means that the UWC mission and values can impact on a larger number of students, it is also positive for our current students, who will benefit from an extended network of fellow students around the world.

Implementation of the strategic plan and the day-to-day running of the UWC movement falls to the UWC International Office in London, which coordinates the activities of the movement. A significant aspect of their work is the strengthening and development of the national committees in over 140 countries. Collectively, the colleges award in excess of 1,000 full and partial scholarships each year to students of promise and potential whose views are aligned with the UWC mission. Consisting of volunteers, some of whom are alumni, the national committees are key to the success of the movement as they select the majority of our scholars. Motivated by a common belief in what we are trying to achieve, we are fortunate to have such committed people working with us.

Working with the International Office, the International Board has an important role in raising UWC’s global profile. As an example, through attendance at the Clinton Global Initiative, UWC has been able to create a scholarship programme aimed at educating and developing a network of globally aware female leaders in post-conflict countries. This raising of our profile also benefits our current students, by bringing the UWC educational model, and UWC students and alumni, to the attention of a wider audience.

Outside of their formal responsibilities, the International Board, who are all volunteers, work tirelessly to support the UWC cause. We are extremely fortunate to have such a dedicated group of individuals, who help to ensure that whatever UWC a student attends, their connection to the UWC mission and the movement as whole, remains strong.

Read an interview with Sir John Daniel O.C..

Does the map look different? In keeping with the UWC ethos, we are now using the Hobo-Dyer Projection for our maps which, as a cylindrical equal area projection, more accurately reflects the relative size of the continents. Thanks to the alumnus who bought this to our attention.