International HE associations seek a more equal agenda

Groups working in international higher education have been trying and continue to try to find ways to establish a more equal and truly international agenda. The Network of International Education Associations has set up a task force to work on actions agreed at the recent Global Dialogue on the Future of International Education.

In their article in University World News, "Can international education be truly equal and global?", Hans de Wit and Nico Jooste intend to provide a "critical but constructive assessment" of the Global Dialogue on the Future of International Education, which recently took place in South Africa.

However they point fingers at the international higher education associations in the Western world, implying that these associations' vested interests seem to be the obstacle to an ideal higher education landscape.

On a positive note the authors stress that the eyes of the associations were opened in South Africa, which according to them is an important first step.

De Wit and Jooste claim that if only the organisations would be willing to learn from the work of the International Association of Universities and the Canadian Bureau for International Education, a future of equality and truly international education could be reached.


It is a bit disappointing to say the least, to me and some of the other participants of the event, that the facilitators of the Global Dialogue decided to evaluate the meeting through a global medium.

It is also not very productive if you really want to advance equity in internationalisation of higher education to publically declare some of your fellow participants wanting. It seems as if some of the organisations pass the moral test of the authors and some do not.

The West has been dominating the internationalisation discourse too much - true. Maybe some not so nice sides of internationalisation have surfaced in the last two decades - true.

To state that Western organisations did not realise this before they went to Port Elizabeth does them a disservice.

The fact that the idea to organise a world conference on international higher education did not get sufficient support possibly has more to do with difficulties to imagine practically how such a conference would come together rather than with the vested interests of the Western world. Some already perceive there to be an international higher education conference circus.

What the authors do not seem to realise is that each organisation has its own governance structures, strategies and internal workings; more importantly they all have their own ways of dealing with and facilitating inclusion and equity. And they do!

The Global Dialogue in Port Elizabeth was an initiative applauded by all and I am sure it will help all participating organisations to put even more energy into this effort than ever before.

However, at the end of the day, it will be each organisation's responsibility to address these issues in their own way; it is not about measuring up to the moral standards of others.

New developments already

Since the Global Dialogue in January, developments have already taken place.

At the recent Association of International Education Administrators conference, the Network of International Education Associations met to discuss follow-up of the Global Dialogue and a task force was created to start working on the implementation of the agreed action points.

At the same conference, a panel discussion on the topic showed that everybody is committed to take this agenda further.

It is true that in our field there are some developments that could be characterised as neo-colonialism, and the example provided by the Brazilian Association for International Education, FAUBAI, is telling in this regard.

But at the same time we all know that most of us working in international higher education have been trying and continue to try to find ways to establish a more equal and truly international internationalisation agenda.

Maybe we should stop asking questions and start marrying dreams with action. That is exactly at the core of what our organisations are trying to do.

* Leonard Engel is executive director of the European Association for International Education, EAIE. This article reflects the thinking of many other international education associations.