WISE 2012 to discuss ‘collaboration for change’

The 2012 World Innovation Summit for Education – WISE – will take place this week. Some 1,200 thought leaders and decision-makers will attend including Barham Madain, chair of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), who spoke to University World News about collaboration in higher education.

Organised by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, the summit, being held from 13-15 November, has the purpose of finding innovative solutions to the challenges of education at all levels.

UWN: The theme for this year’s WISE is “Collaboration for Change”. What aspects of this broad topic related to higher education would you highlight?

Madain: Higher education institutions in developing countries must find ways of satisfying the high – and growing – demand for high quality university education with scarce means.

They need to move away from the traditional pattern of teachers who lecture and students who listen and memorise, towards a free and flexible curriculum where students, not teachers, are the main actors.

The shift is proving difficult for developing countries because of rigidities in the system and little appetite from many academics for making the change. Universities from developed countries who have trodden this path can help by transferring their know-how.

UWN: What ideas on how to collaborate for change does IAUP have to offer?

Madain: A practical idea is IAUP’s Thousand Chairs for Africa project, aimed at sending rectors and other university authorities from developed world universities to manage universities in Africa.

The project has been backed up by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and other international institutions, but still there is no funding for it.

There is no shortage of worthwhile international collaboration initiatives that can be undertaken if the funds and the will of the parties are there.

UWN: What has WISE achieved since its first meeting three years ago?

Madain: The leadership courses for university rectors or vice-rectors, which last a month and have been run yearly in Doha for the past three years, are an important achievement.

WISE meetings – I’ve attended two of the three that have taken place so far – have opened my mind to new ideas and practical projects. I remember, for example, projects in India and Pakistan on new teaching methodologies and education via mobile phones.

Participants take back those ideas and experiences to their own countries. As a result, changes do take place over time.

Most importantly, experiences shared at WISE meetings show us that the problems are the same all over the world. The meeting contributes to what I can only describe as a global awakening to the relevance of higher education for the four thousand million people who live in the 'Third World'.

UWN: What is IAUP’s roadmap for higher education?

Madain: At IAUP we promote tolerance, conflict resolution, and education for peace, as well as diversity and quality in education.

From my point of view, when it comes to education, students are the most important factor. Students must be interested in studying and must put all their heart into it. Good education requires good students imbued with core values.

UWN: How can universities contribute to sustainable development?

Madain: A good example is IAUP and the United Nations Academic Impact programme. The programme encourages universities around the world to help their countries meet the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). Universities involved in this programme commit themselves to running an academic event related to the MDGs at least once a year.

UWN: What is the relevance of technology in education as well as the partnership between universities and technology companies?

Madain: Technology companies are very interested in collaborating with the world of education.

Many technological applications can help us satisfy the mass demand for education. Long-distance learning is a good example. We need access to the relevant technologies, resources to acquire them and the know-how to use them productively. Companies can help us on all three counts.

UWN: As a Chilean, what do you think lies behind student dissatisfaction with higher education in Chile and several other Latin American countries and what can be done about it?

Madain: In my view, there are several reasons for the growing dissatisfaction: students are realising that what they learn at school is not enough for them to succeed in higher education; the high cost of higher education, which lands many students in debt that often they cannot repay because there are too many graduates after few jobs, or these are badly paid.

I believe the reforms the Chilean government is carrying out go in the right direction.

These include maintaining public, private and mixed education institutions; creating a Superintendency of Education that sets standards and supervises education providers; reducing the duration of careers; increasing financing for schools; promoting the teaching profession; providing incentives for successful students; and increasing coverage of pre-school education.

* This year’s fourth WISE summit has attracted more than 1,000 participants from 100 countries and 70 sessions. Innovators, decision-makers and project leaders will debate solutions to challenges in education.

“In order to prepare learners for a rapidly changing world, we need to rethink education together, by questioning conventional models, sharing knowledge and promoting innovation,” says the 2012 WISE summit website.

The theme of this year’s fourth WISE, “Collaboration for Change”, is particularly pertinent to higher education, and the role of universities in promoting innovation in education at all levels will be debated.