Institute of Commonwealth Studies: Celebrating 70 Years of Commonwealth Scholarship

The Institute of Commonwealth Studies, founded in 1949, seventy years ago this year, is the only postgraduate academic institution in the United Kingdom devoted to the study of the Commonwealth. The Institute is a national and international centre of excellence for policy-relevant research, research facilitation, and teaching. As a member of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, it works with eight other prestigious postgraduate research institutes to offer academic opportunities across and between a wide range of subject fields in the humanities and social sciences.The Institute’s Library is an international resource holding more than 190,000 volumes, with particularly impressive Caribbean, Southern African and Australian holdings, and over 200 archival collections.

The Institute is home to a number of postgraduate study programmes, including an interdisciplinary and practice-oriented MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights taught in London, an MA in Human Rights taught via distance learning, and an MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies, also taught via distance learning. It also offers research degrees and provides research training.

A new short course, The Modern Commonwealth, which can be undertaken entirely online, provides an insight into the history that has shaped the modern Commonwealth of Nations as well as the key events, figures, and formal agreements which have made it the organisation it is today. 

Reflections on the 70th Anniversary of the Modern Commonwealth

Dr Sue Onslow, ICWS deputy director, reflects on the old ties and new links that have helped the Institute of Commonwealth Studies grow and flourish over its seven decades. Read more...

Related Events

A number of special events are planned for the Institute's 70th anniversary year. 

15 Jan Institutional and Legislative Reforms in Malaysia  
5 Feb China’s Belt and Road Initiative: The Impact on Europe  
14 Feb ICWS@70: India at the Polls, 2019: Significance and Prognosis  
18 Feb ICWS@70: India, the Media, and the 2019 Elections Listen: Audio
28 Feb ICWS@70: History of Journalism in the Commonwealth Research Day  
25 March ICWS@70: The ICWS and Human Rights Watch: Video
25 March Albie Sachs Returns to the ICWS: Martin Plaut, interviewer  Watch: Video 
 3 April ICWS@70: South Africa's Election and the Media Listen: Audio
11–13 April ICWS@70: British Association for Canadian Studies – 44th Annual
25 April ICWS@70: Building Democracy in Eritrea – Conference  
29 April ICWS@70: The Commonwealth and Resilience in the 21st Century Listen: Audio
 2 May ICWS@70: What’s Happening in Black British History Workshop  
 8 May ICWS@70: Children of the Windrush Generation  
20 May ICWS@70: Is the Commonwealth Really 70?  
3–5 June RLI 4th Annual Conference: Rethinking the “Regional” in Refugee
Law and Policy
 8 July ICWS@70: Mozambique and Cyclone Idai: The Challenges of Reconstruction  

Recent ICWS News

£12m awarded to international consortium to secure LGBT+ inclusion in Africa
The Institute of Commonwealth Studies is one of eight partners in a new and ambitious programme of action and research to counter discrimination and economic inequality against LGBT+ people in five major African cities. Read more...

ICWS academic to investigate the impacts of fracking
Dr Damien Short, director of the Human Rights Consortium (HRC), is part of an ambitious research project that will investigate the facts behind a controversial issue – fracking (hydraulic fracturing). The project will examine the environmental and socio-economic impacts of this gas extraction process in the UK. Read more...

Media Freedom in the Commonwealth
The ICWS’s new centre for the study of challenges to media freedom includes regular updates on threats to journalists’ safety, freedom of information and public interest journalism in Commonwealth countries. Read more...


Research Fellows at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies form part of a dynamic research community working on issues of relevance to the Institute's research portfolio. Benefits of Institute fellowships include (depending on fellowship type): access to the Senate House Libraries collections, discounted attendance at our academic events and access to fellows-only events, a dedicated IT account and email address, use of shared office space, and the support of the research services team for authorised grant applications through the Institute.

Whether you are considering a fellowship with us as part of a sabbatical leave from your home institution, to supplement your research, or for any other reason, we hope that you will take full advantage of our academic and research opportunities. Learn more and apply:


The Institute of Commonwealth Studies publishes high-impact academic work relevant to researchers and policymakers, including monographs, edited volumes, transcripts and reports. A full list of publications produced by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and its Human Rights Consortium and Refugee Law Initiative can be found here.

Selected publications include: 

Terrorism and Asylum: RLI Working Paper Series Mini-Volume (31-36)
11 January 2019

Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Media in Governance The Commonwealth Working Group on Media and Good Governance
30 October 2018

Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights: (Neo)colonialism, Neoliberalism, Resistance and Hope
Edited by Nancy Nicol, Adrian Jjuuko, Richard Lusimbo, Nick Mulé, Susan Ursel, Amar Wahab, and Phyllis Waugh
13 September 2018

Environmental Displacement in 2018 - Current Protection Challenges: RLI Working Paper Series Mini-volume (23–25)
17 July 2018

We Mark Your Memory: Writings from the Descendants of Indenture
Edited by David Dabydeen, Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, and Tina K. Ramnarine
30 April 2018


Affiliated Programmes

The Human Rights Consortium (HRC) was established to facilitate and promote interdisciplinary research in human rights nationally and internationally.

The Human Rights Consortium (HRC) was established to facilitate and promote interdisciplinary research in human rights nationally and internationally.

The Human Rights Consortium is committed to organising and supporting academic, policy, and practice-oriented events on human rights.

The Consortium seeks to publish high-impact academic work and to disseminate work arising from events, particularly conferences and workshops.

The Human Rights Consortium (HRC) was established to facilitate and promote interdisciplinary research in human rights nationally and internationally.

The Refugee Law Initiative is the only academic centre in the UK to concentrate specifically on international refugee law.

As a national focal point for leading and promoting research in this field, the Refugee Law Initiative (RLI) works to integrate the shared interests of refugee law scholars and practitioners, stimulate collaboration between academics and nonacademics, and achieve policy impact at the national and international level.

The RLI has a number of academic, teaching, and support staff and regularly hosts Visiting Fellows from other institutions. The RLI also facilitates networks of Senior Research Associates and Research Affiliates that include many of the leading thinkers on refugee law and forced migration. These networks are integral to the work of the RLI and allow for collaboration across a range of disciplines. You can join us through our networks or visiting fellows schemes, and add your name to our mailing list to keep informed of news and activities at the RLI.