Establishment of COL

In 1987, Commonwealth Heads of Government received a report entitled, Towards a Commonwealth of Learning: A proposal to create the University of the Commonwealth for Co-operation in Distance Learning.[1] Based on the findings of that report and a subsequent one from a working group chaired by John Daniel, leaders agreed to establish a Commonwealth institution to encourage the development and sharing of open learning and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.

Their vision was that the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) should be in the vanguard of using ODL and information and communication technology (ICT) developments to meet the Commonwealth’s education and training needs, helping member states optimise their potential and develop their human capital through extending quality education access to remote regions, and to people with limited or no face-to-face learning options.

COL became operational in 1989. From the beginning, COL has received a significant overall level of funding, co-operation and support from developing countries. More than two decades since COL’s inception, Commonwealth Heads of Government and Ministers of Education recognise that it is in part due to the efforts of COL and a wide international network of partners that distance education is now part of the mainstream of education and training. Today there is at least one distance learning operation in each of the Commonwealth’s member states, including middle and lower-income countries.

While much has been achieved, there is still tremendous need. As defined in the Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals(MDG) declarations, education is one of the best development strategies to break the human cycle of poverty, misery and violence. ODL, coupled with the strategic application of ICT, can play a central role in delivering education at every level to all, and in providing them with the necessary tools for a more productive future.

[1] Report of the Expert Group on Commonwealth Co-operation in Distance Education and Open Learning, Chaired by Lord Briggs (London: Commonwealth Secretariat).



COL is governed by an international Board of Governors with some 40 staff members distributed between its headquarters in Metro Vancouver, Canada and the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) in New Delhi, India.

At approximately CAD10 million per year, COL’s annual budget remains modest for a Commonwealth institution tasked with its broad mandate. COL obtains resources for its work in various ways:

  • Its core financing comes in the form of voluntary contributions from Commonwealth governments.
  • COL augments this major part of its budget with income from other sources such as grants received from other intergovernmental organisations and foundations in support of programme initiatives, fees received for professional services and interest on bank balances.
  • There is also significant “in kind” support from COL’s partners.



All 52 Commonwealth member countries benefit from COL’s work, which addresses the key learning and development challenges associated with the UN’s MDG and EFA targets such as gender equity, sustainable development, environmental protection and civil rights; as well as the Commonwealth objectives of peace, democracy, equality and good governance.

COL’s greatest impact is in supporting efforts to give the Commonwealth’s citizens more access to quality education and training through open, distance and eLearning, thereby enabling them to benefit from improved livelihoods, greater gender equity, and overall economic, social and cultural development.