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Dear UWC community,

“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.” (Kurt Hahn)

Since the pioneering days of the UWC movement six decades ago, we have been unwilling to settle for less than our students deserve and the world needs. In this spirit, five years ago UWC collaborated on a study with a team of researchers led by Professor Howard Gardner from The Good Project of Project Zero, a research centre at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The team conducted a five-year longitudinal study culminating in the report Educational Experiences and Outcomes at the United World Colleges (UWC): An Investigation of Impact. The study involved 4,834 UWC students, 6,894 alumni and, for comparison purposes, 1,830 students from 13 non-UWC schools (the researchers noted that “more recent UWC alumni were overrepresented in survey responses with over 40% of participants having graduated from their school since 2010"). 

Project Zero and UWC have a shared belief in the role of education in developing human potential, and the way it can support learners to thrive in an ever-changing world. This study investigates UWC’s mission-driven educational model, focusing particularly on which aspects of a UWC education may be most influential in encouraging ethical habits and pro-social actions in young people. We also believe that, by extension, the study can help to better understand how global education as a whole can work to develop citizens who will go on to shape a more peaceful and sustainable future for all.

The researchers have unpacked some of the ways in which the UWC model of education is achieving the desired impact and some areas where we can do better. Among many positive highlights, the report found that the most impactful elements of the UWC education experience involved opportunities for interpersonal encounters and autonomous learning which led to changes in attitudes, dispositions and values such as open-mindedness, views of diversity and multiculturalism and capacity for social justice. The report also suggested a link between autonomous learning and the development of skills including team-building and collaboration; confidence and leadership; and self-discipline and responsibility. UWC students also scored higher on levels of civic competence, compared to peers at other schools.

The research also feeds into our ongoing process of reflection and learning, and, as such, identifies some areas that require careful consideration. These include student workload, approaches to assessment and the provision of mental health support. We welcome this valuable input, which will help to further inform conversations within the UWC movement. Indeed, some of the more critical questions raised in the study are not unique to UWC. Across the world, international schools are grappling with many of the same challenges, and this study will help to serve as a valuable learning tool for educational institutions worldwide.  

As we begin to explore the report in full detail and consider its implications for our ongoing work, it is important to note that the UWC mission was selected as the most common reason for students and alumni choosing to apply to UWC. The mission is described as a unifying force, which gives a sense of purpose to community members and guides the implementation of programmes at schools and colleges. Yet, the report shows that the mission can sometimes be interpreted in different ways by UWC students and alumni. This gives further impetus for the UWC movement to find ways to explore the intersection of peace, sustainability, experiential learnings and service as core elements of the UWC education model. 

The world has changed since the study began five years ago. During these years, we have experienced a global pandemic, a social reckoning in the face of racial injustice and discrimination, and an increasingly urgent climate crisis. With the ongoing uncertainty this creates, UWC must remain a beacon of hope and commitment. We must expect more of ourselves and we must do our utmost to prepare the future leaders of the world with the skills and dispositions to make as much of a difference as they can wherever they find themselves. This is our calling.

Faith Abiodun
Executive Director, UWC International

Dr Musimbi Kanyoro
Chair, UWC International Board 

Quique Bassat
Chair, UWC International Council 

Copyright © 2022 UWC International, All rights reserved.

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