Promoting respect and understanding among student leaders



Members of the delegates on the Heriot-Watt's green rooftop

Heriot-Watt University Malaysia hosted the ACU Residential School four-day leadership programme, which brought together 30 students from across the Commonwealth to develop their skills and cultivate innovative solutions to ensure universities are places of tolerance and respect.

The ACU Residential School took place from 18-21 December 2017 here, and was delivered in partnership with Common Purpose, an international leadership development organisation.

The event saw an eclectic mix of ambitious undergraduate and postgraduate students from ACU member universities in 20 countries – including Bangladesh, Canada, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, and Trinidad and Tobago – working together towards a shared goal of creating a fairer, more inclusive society.

The programme enabled students to develop their ability to fluidly work across cultural boundaries, and increase their understanding of tolerance and respect, while exploring practical measures to promote it in their home institution and beyond.

Dr Joanna Newman, Chief Executive and Secretary General of the ACU, said: 'The Commonwealth is a fantastic framework for dialogue, engagement, and exchange across borders, cultures and faiths. The diversity of our members, and their willingness to cooperate, inspired a very special campaign on the role of universities in promoting mutual respect and understanding between people of different faiths, beliefs and cultures.

'While gathering dozens of case studies and encouraging more than 350 individuals and institutions to sign up to a Statement of shared values, we decided to convene student leaders to learn from each other and get practical means to promote respect and understanding in their institutions and communities.

'We are committed to supporting these remarkable students' journeys as they go back home to drive positive social change.'

Over the four days, participants were immersed in Kuala Lumpur – a famously multi-ethnic, multi-religious city – and had the chance to get beneath the surface of the city by having frank, engaging conversations with representatives of civil society organisations. A mixture of lectures, café conversations, and immersion visits saw students discuss the challenges and opportunities of advocating for fairer, more inclusive societies with activists from Mythos Labs, Global Peace Foundation, Justice for Sisters, and the Make it Movement. This provided students with useful insights and perspectives into the myriad ways people create change and enhance tolerance and inclusivity locally, giving them a solid base to tackle the practical challenge they were set as part of the programme: 'What can be done to create tolerant and inclusive communities in their institutions and beyond?'.

Holly Scott a student from the University of Glasgow, UK said about the School:  'It's been a fantastic experience - far more meaningful and personal than I had imagined before I came. The exercises and input have helped shape my experiences but the real value has also come from doing these with the group of students her from all over the world.'

While Hamza Mohammad Sherif, a student at the University of Mines and Technology in Ghana, commented:  'Having to discard my views on certain issues, because I wasn't looking at it from a broader point of view has been an important lesson. I strongly think most student leaders should be given access to this programme in future, since it has the potential to really change the world positively.'

We were honoured to host the ACU Residential School this year at our Malaysia campus. As a member of the ACU since 1996, Heriot-Watt believes in the fundamentals of cultivating respect and understanding as part of the university's core values. Malaysia itself is a large multi-ethnic country that has long embraced diversity as one of our primary strengths, hence we support the ACU's effort to continuously harness the power of inclusivity, respect and tolerance. This, we believe, is pertinent for a positive social change not just for our own community, but for other institutions and global communities.

Professor Mushtak Al-Atabi, Provost of Heriot-Watt University Malaysia

Andy Coxall, Chief Executive of Common Purpose Student Experiences, said: 'Students need new competencies and skills fit for the 21st century, to be successful and to tackle the complex challenges they and the world face. We were delighted to work with the ACU and Heriot-Watt to deliver this programme, and to enable students to develop their leadership skills and Cultural Intelligence – the ability to cross boundaries and thrive in multiple cultures.'