First global conference on HE internationalisation

The first Global Conference on Internationalisation of Higher Education will be held in August next year, in South Africa’s huge Kruger Park game reserve. The event flows from the first inclusive Global Dialogue held in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in January 2014, attended by 24 international education organisations from across the world.

“We want to create a commons where there’s nobody dominating,” said Professor Nico Jooste, president of the International Education Association of South Africa, making the announcement at the IEASA annual conference held in Port Elizabeth from 19-21 August.

“It will be a major event, academically global in scope.”

The Global Conference on Internationalisation of Higher Education will take place from 22-24 August 2016 in conference facilities at Skukuza camp in Kruger Park. There are beds for 450 delegates.

“The call for papers will go out soon. You can book the date,” said Jooste, who is also senior director of international education at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. “We are expecting high demand for places.”

The roar of lions and cackling hyenas are bound to dramatise presentations, and since game drives take place just before sunrise or in the late afternoon or evening, participants will be able to combine business with safari.


The 24 international education bodies that attended the Global Dialogue last year – including from America, Europe, Mexico, Japan, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America – produced a declaration that stressed mutual benefit and a more ethical global higher education agenda.

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

Last year in South Africa was the first time a globally inclusive dialogue was held, and participants debated 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 resulting Nelson Mandela Bay Global Dialogue Declaration agreed that a future agenda for internationalisation should focus on enhancing quality and diversity in mobility programmes, internationalisation of the curriculum and gaining global commitment to equal partnerships.

The global conference

“One of the outcomes of the Global Dialogue was a discussion – not a firm decision – about a global conference that would happen every four years and should be hosted by one of the associations that are not normally in the ‘middle’ of the world,” said Jooste.

Some participants felt they did not have a mandate to back the global international education conference idea. Some pointed out that their annual conferences were global in terms of participation, and were concerned about a global event taking away from theirs. And so the idea was not included in the declaration’s priority actions.

“There was some silence about it,” Jooste admitted. But Global Dialogue statements began popping up on the websites of international education associations. “We started to prod our colleagues and suggested that IEASA might forego its annual conference and instead provide organisation for a global conference.”

At a meeting held during this month’s IEASA conference in Port Elizabeth – which was attended by some 160 people including representatives of numerous international education groups from around the world – there was “100% buy-in”.

Ideas from the IEASA conference

At the end of the IEASA conference Professor Hans de Wit, the new director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College in America, outlined striking aspects of the discussions that should be taken forward – including, presumably, at the global conference.

The first was the issue of research in internationalisation. “When we talk about the internationalisation of higher education, we are inclined to forget about research and only talk about the educational side, about the mobility of students and staff, joint partnerships etc.”

People working in international education hid away from the research question, De Wit said, because the professionals were not really much involved in research and the academics saw research as their territory.

“But that’s increasingly not the case. Research as presented here is more and more a kind of joint partnership. You can no longer do research on your own, you have to work together.” With research becoming more complex and costly, it had to be done in multinational teams.

“A stronger relationship between research and education in the international field is important. It was a good idea to learn here from researchers about how they work on research cooperation in the international arena and about their issues and concerns. I think this will be increasingly important in our work.”

A second innovative idea was a World Café on global engagement with internationalisation of teaching and research. Not the fact that it was a ‘world café’, said De Wit, but the concept of having tables where South Africans could talk with a Brazilian or Russian or Mexican and discuss their perceptions of internationalisation, and similarities and differences.

“Because internationalisation is not one word that fits all. Context is so crucial. The context of being in Mexico or in South Africa or in Russia defines the way that internationalisation goes.” By understanding and communicating with each other, there was lively debate and exploration of commonalities and differences and how to overcome difference.

The third innovation, De Wit said, was both shocking and fascinating – a debate about xenophobia and tribalism and the issues faced in South Africa: “How to deal not only with foreigners but also local differences and how that affects daily lives and also the work in internationalisation.

“We have to be aware that the local and the global are not different; that international is also intercultural, and intercultural is also in our countries.” Such issues as internal problems and internal diversity should not be shied away from.

“We have an important role to play in our internationalisation at home. How to deal with the global and local and regional.” How to deal with diversity within South Africa, within Africa and in the global context, for instance.

“There is no contradiction between those levels; you have to address them at the same time because they all are related,” De Wit argued. It was important to hear about how South Africa was dealing with diversity and tribalism – “issues you don’t hear much about” – and how it affects working in internationalisation.

America and Europe were also dealing with diversity issues, and people could learn from each other that this is not just a South African or a Dutch or an American problem – “we still have to deal with racial tensions and tribal conflict etc all over the world and that is also part of the internationalisation of higher education”.

Finally, said De Wit, a panel and session on the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – was important as a clear example of cooperation that did not involve the traditional powers dealt with before, such as North America, Europe, Australia and Japan.

“How can we collaborate with Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa? That’s very difficult. But if you don’t try to do something it will never happen.

“With all the challenges and risks that are involved, and correctly addressing issues such as human rights and the ethics of collaboration, I still think that it’s very important that efforts are made to have this kind of cooperation taking place without the traditional powers being involved,” De Wit said, concluding:

“Those four struck me as new and innovative ways of bringing the whole discussion forward about how we collaborate together internationally on making our higher education systems more connected and more engaged with all students and staff at our universities.”