International HE associations call for global equity

Twenty-four international education organisations from across the world – including the giants in America and Europe and groups from Mexico and Japan, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America – gathered in South Africa last week for a first inclusive Global Dialogue.

They forged a declaration that stressed mutual benefit and development and a more equitable and ethical global higher education agenda, and agreed on actions to take the goals forward.

There have been previous Global Dialogues of international education groups, on the sidelines of international education conferences, but they have mainly involved North American and European organisations.

This was the first time that a formal, globally inclusive dialogue has been held with the express purpose of investigating whether and how higher education internationalisation might be made more globally equitable, value-driven and collaborative and how practitioners might go about shaping its future agenda and harmonising their efforts.

The dialogue was organised by the International Education Association of South Africa, IEASA, and hosted by the international education office of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, which is headed by Dr Nico Jooste.

He told University World News that international education associations had called for a formal dialogue a couple of years ago and had challenged him to pull it together. The response had been enthusiastic – nine national, six regional and nine organisations with national, regional and global responsibilities from around the world attended.

Once they had gathered in a restored building in the city centre, however, reaching agreement was not easy, admitted one of the dialogue’s facilitators Hans de Wit, director of the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan and a professor at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

While the wide range of organisations all dealt with higher education internationalisation, he told University World News, they have different backgrounds, memberships and responsibilities: “That was the challenge for this dialogue.

“Internationalisation has become a very broad umbrella term which includes all kinds of different aspects and activities – sometimes even conflicting, like the more commercial ones and the more social responsibility ones,” said de Wit, who also recently became a research associate at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

“There was common concern that we had to address that conflict so internationalisation does not become purely an income-generating profit entity. Without ignoring that sometimes you have to have profit, we still need higher education objectives such as social responsibility in the global scene. Internationalisation has to come to grips with that.”

The declaration

After two days of intense debate, on Friday the international education groups agreed on the “Nelson Mandela Bay Global Dialogue Declaration on the Future of Internationalisation of Higher Education”.

It declared their “commitment to emphasising the importance of decision-making and practices in the development of internationalisation activities that are imbued by ethical considerations of inclusivity”.

The dialogue recognised the importance of two documents – Affirming Academic Values in Internationalisation of Higher Education: A call for action, adopted by the International Association of Universities in April 2012; and the International Student Mobility Charter of September 2012, adopted by a range of associations around the world.

In deciding actions that would support the implementation of those documents, said the declaration, “we wish to re-emphasise that internationalisation must be based on mutual benefit and development for entities and individuals in the developed, emerging and developing worlds".

“The participants to the dialogue commit themselves to promote international higher education and research that recognises the richness and diversity offered by all regions for a global higher education agenda which is equitable, ethical, socially responsible, accessible and accountable.”

The participants agreed that the future internationalisation agenda should in particular concentrate on three integrated areas of development:
  • • Enhancing aspects of quality and diversity in programmes involving the mobility of students and academic and administrative staff.
  • • Increasing focus on the internationalisation of the curriculum and of related learning outcomes.
  • • Gaining commitment on a global basis for the creation of equal and ethical higher education partnerships.
The declaration commits its signatories to inform their constituencies and similar higher education bodies not present at the dialogue of its content, “and to actively gain support for the implementation of the actions agreed upon”.

During the course of the two days, participants proposed 15 actions to be taken. Some were agreed to be of high priority.

They included that the three areas for development identified above should be the focus for collaboration on joint professional development activities, “to guarantee global interaction and dialogue”.

The Network of International Education Associations – a loose and somewhat inactive association of associations – would develop actions to increase the access and affordability of participation in each other’s conferences and professional development activities, “taking into account the needs from the developing world”.

And at its upcoming meeting in April, the Association for Studies in International Education would discuss how to “stimulate co-research and co-authorships as well as publications from the emerging and developing world”.

Who attended?

In a document prepared for the gathering, the South African association IEASA wrote that the enthusiasm with which invitations to the dialogue were met was “a clear illustration that the leadership of international higher education is aware of shifting power relationships within global higher education and as such would like to be part of shaping this new future”.

From North America came the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA), Association of International Educators (NAFSA), Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration (CONAHEC) and the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE).

Also from the developed world were the European Association for International Education (EAIE), the International Association of Universities, International Education Association of Australia, International Network of Universities, and Japan Student Services Organisation (JASSO).

From the global South came the Association of Arab Universities, the Association of Brazilian Higher Education Institutions’ Offices for International Relations (FAUBAI), the Mexican Association for International Education, the Inter-University Council for East Africa and South Africa’s National Research Foundation.

The African Network for Internationalisation of Education accepted but was unable to make the dialogue, and Asia’s university association was also unable to attend. Jooste said it had not been possible to identify single, representative international education associations in large countries such as China, India or Russia.

DAAD – the German Academic Exchange Service and the Netherlands organisation for international cooperation in higher education (Nuffic) were also there, along with the Southern African-Nordic Centre, i-Graduate and the Center for Global Education at the University of California, Los Angeles.