Letter from the Principal

Pelham Lindfield Roberts


Dear UWC Community,

As we enter 2019 and move towards the Chinese Spring Festival and the Year of the Pig, I would like to send you my best wishes and invite you to read this personal perspective on UWC in China. For many of you in the UWC movement, outside our own college community, UWC Changshu may still be something of an enigma, so I want to share my first impressions and personal experience of what matters at UWC Changshu China and identify the important role UWC has to play.

To introduce myself, in August 2018 I became the second Principal of UWC Changshu China. I am a Canadian born British Citizen. My wife Ulrike is Austrian and we have three sons. Before my first connection with UWC, I was trained as a teacher at Oxford University, and taught in a British State School in Bristol. It was 24 years ago, in January 1995, that I was looking for something more in education. I wanted to find a school in the mountains, where through the experience of adversity, challenge and collective endeavour, students could develop empathy, personal values and skills to discover a life worth living. At the time I thought I would be on the founding staff of UWC RCN; instead I ended up working at Atlantic College for the next decade. There, with courageous colleagues and students, each day we trained students to crew the RNLI Lifeboat and I took students to Israel and Palestine. I taught Peace and Conflict Studies and later helped develop the Global Politics course. After AC, I spent a short period Head of Salem International College, part of Schule Schloss Salem, Kurt Hahn’s (founder of UWC)first school. Subsequently I was Head of two Schools in South Africa and the United States before my appointment Head of UWC Mahindra College in 2011. I have visited every UWC campus and had a close connection with seven of them, a parent, teacher or Head. In August 2018, we moved from our much-loved hill top in Maharashtra, India to a new and very interesting island in the Kuncheng Lake in Changshu, Jiangsu Province, China. It was a dramatic change. I want to share what I have discovered:

“In the turbulent world of the 21st century” the UWC website suggests, “UWC’s aims and objectives are perhaps more relevant today than they were in 1962”. UWC was founded at a time when the Cold War was at its height, the aim being to bring young people together from different nations “to act as champions of peace through an education based on shared learning, collaboration and understanding”.In January 2015, the founding year of UWC Changshu China, Li Keqiang, the Premier of the People’s Republic of China, addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos with words that reflect our UWC ideals, “Human society is like a garden where all human civilizations blossom. Different cultures and religions need to respect and live in harmony with each other.” The following year President Trump stated “we have an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between our two countries (USA and China) and improve the lives of our citizens.” However, and as we know, things turned out differently. A few months ago, US Vice President, Mike Pence, delivered a speech at the Hudson Institute, which some have likened to Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech from 1946, heralding a new Cold War. It caused significant concern. Graham Allison, in his analysis of Sino-US relations “Destined for War” suggests that we underestimate the risk of a clash between the two major economies of the world. “America has shaped a set of global rules to suit itself. China has different values and different interests which it would like others to accommodate, so disagreements are inevitable.” In this changing political context, this indicates why UWC remains relevant in the first part of the twenty-first century and specifically why UWC Changshu China matters. It provides the opportunity for international students to understand China and for Chinese students to understand others.

It is a privilege to be given the opportunity to influence the development of this very special UWC in China and to work with the founders and a committed team of staff, faculty and students. Those who are living and learning at UWC Changshu China know the challenges which exist and are ready to turn them into opportunities.

The campus of UWC Changshu China, situated on an island, provides accommodation for 570 students and over 60 faculty and is the largest fully-residential UWC community. The daunting challenge of having so many teenagers in one college presents us with challenges and opportunities: Working out how to hold effective meetings, developing our understanding of community, involving our students in what we hope will be well-designed decision-making structures and enabling them to participate in designing community guidelines. In such a large community, individual respect for the values of the UWC movement are fundamental, seeking to provide appropriate freedom and to engender appropriate responsibility; as in all UWC schools and colleges, respecting the local context.

The Yushan Academy opened on our island in 2018 with the explicit intention of enabling UWC Changshu China to look outwards to China, to the UWC movement and to the world. The city government bestowed on us the right and responsibility to use the name of a traditional scholarly institution with a history stretching back more than 700 years. This vision is clearly more than a statement of intent. The Yushan Academy contains the Chinese Cultural Centre, with facilities to ground both Chinese and International students in the history, culture and language of China and this is co-located with the Centre for Design and Innovation, encouraging students to design creatively for the future. The Yushan Academy will be a visitor centre providing local, regional, national and international groups, of adult learners, students or teachers with learning opportunities, enhancing the UWC sphere of influence, sharing our values and relevance and having an impact beyond our IB Diploma students. The Yushan Academy may also become the focal point for a UWC Changshu China Teacher Fellowship programme. This will link with the focus of the UWC Education Officer who is working to design and develop curriculum more suited to the skills needed by UWC change makers in the 21stCentury. UWC Changshu China has established a recognised UWC Short Course, run by students supported by faculty, existing alongside other educational summer programmes for youth. The college has attracted interest from all over China and the China NC anticipates selecting up to 100 students for places in other UWC’s across the world, many of them coming through the UWC Changshu China Foundation Programme. We are actively seeking to diversify the Foundation Programme through finding and funding scholarships for both Chinese and International students. My own son took the Foundation Programme in the college’s second year and this was my first direct connection with UWC Changshu China. This personal experience as a parent allows me to enthusiastically and genuinely promote the Foundation Programme, but many of my colleagues, as UWC Heads, will testify to the enhanced success of students who have had a year in the UWC Changshu China Foundation Programme before talking a place in another UWC.

Our theme this year has been “Integration” building a more cohesive compassionate and integrated community with a clear understanding of academic excellence along with a whole-hearted engagement with UWC objectives. Understanding what it is to be a UWC college in China, we will be looking at defining and assuring teaching quality in ways that will meet Chinese expectations whilst keeping the UWC mission at the heart of everything we do. Recruiting, retaining and mentoring experienced and qualified faculty who are able to deliver on these objectives, who are ready to be held accountable for high academic standards, who care about UWC values and who will challenge our students to live up to these aspirations, with appropriate support, is our most immediate and important task.

In the coming months we will be building a collective vision for UWC Changshu China for the year 2025, the tenth anniversary of the founding of the college and we will invite participation from stakeholders across the UWC movement to participate in this process. We are activelybuilding the leadership and faculty teams which will lead UWC Changshu China into the future, enhancing our capacity to deliver and go beyond the IB academically and in our experiential and service programmes, developing a community assembly in which students actively participate, developing our use of technology in the classroom and to enable us to individualise learning and enhancing our understanding of and commitment to promoting health and wellbeing for students, faculty and staff. We aim to build compassion at the heart of our community, making sure we use our facilities mindfully and resources sustainably. The Yushan Academy Design Technology facilities, the new aquaponic greenhouse, vegetable garden and orchard, our sailing boats, dragon boats, canoes and kayaks, our stage, theatre, music rooms and art centre, our sports hall and indoor swimming pool, gyms and climbing wall, our classrooms, labs and residences. We need initiatives which will meaningfully and demonstrably lessen our environmental impact in how we eat and how we live. The whole island will be used to promote the UWC mission for our students and for our local community. But more important than these exceptional facilities, the context of China is the educational opportunity which is essential to recognise and develop. We will find ways to respectfully learn and grow through engaging with difference and diversity, in politics, economics and culture; enhancing understanding, respect and the potential for peace, through our students and our alumni, so that they will be able to lead a life of meaning with the capacity and skills to be peace builders in a world in which they are truly needed.

Our first term on this island has been a whirlwind, adapting to a different language, culture and learning about the dynamics of a new UWC community, discovering what it is to be a UWC in China. We see the potential for impact and we see the need for UWC Changshu China. For anyone who believes in the power of education and for all of us who are committed to the UWC mission, there can be little doubt that UWC Changshu China is of its time. As we develop our Vision for 2025, we need your input to understand and reach our potential and to do what needs to be done.

I look forward to sharing our journey with you. From all of us at UWC Changshu China, I wish you a very Happy, Peaceful and Sustainable New Year!

Pelham Lindfield Roberts


UWC Changshu China