Ten principles to guide ethical internationalisation

A generation ago, our concept of international higher education might have included visiting professors, exchange students and study years abroad. To describe that conceptualisation through today’s lens as quaint would be a vast understatement.

This article is part of a series on Transformative Leadership published by University World News in partnership with Mastercard Foundation. University World News is solely responsible for the editorial content.

Increasingly today we see the internationalisation of higher education in parallel with the many faces of globalisation, including the global economy and the shrinking of the world via social media, online education and other technologies.

We see today:

  • • An exponential increase in the establishment of branch campuses in countries outside a university’s home country (Qatar’s Education City – with six American universities, one British university and one French university – is perhaps the most elaborate example);
  • • The expansion of US-based for-profit universities in the developing world (Brazil, for example, sees this online reach offering hope for the huge number of rural youth who do not have access to traditional schools);
  • • The work of the Scholar Rescue Fund of the Institute of International Education – extracting professors and other scholars from areas of active combat or oppression and placing them temporarily in safe countries and institutions;
  • • Acquisition of tertiary institutions in the US and other countries by investors from abroad (facilitated by organisations such as Docere Group International, LLC, where I am a principal);
  • • Historically insular societies such as Saudi Arabia engaged in finding the delicate balance between embracing the wider world of academia (for example, funding research projects where investigators from several countries collaborate together in the same project) while preserving their traditional culture, with religious and governmental control.
Against this backdrop, there is no global body that oversees and guarantees either quality or integrity across all offerings and initiatives.

There are regional bodies: in Europe, the Bologna Process is “a series of ministerial meetings and agreements between European countries designed to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of higher education qualifications”.

In the US and many other countries, accrediting bodies work closely with ministries or departments of education in the service of quality assurance and consumer protection. US regional accreditors are increasingly being invited by non-US institutions to evaluate and accredit them, a new frontier for these bodies.

In the developing world, Qatar, through the work of its World Innovation Summit for Education initiative and the considerable financial backing of the government, asserts the right of the non-Western world to participate fully in defining the norms, design, avenues of access and participating populations for both K-12 and tertiary education.

No common standards

Worldwide, there is great variation in the standards set and means of oversight for what has become the increasingly complex, border-confounding and multifaceted world of international higher education, with its diverse (and often conflicting) ideologies, forms of government, cultural norms and beliefs and economic and social policies.

To whom, then, are responsible educators, investors, policy-makers, thought leaders, creatives, governments and publics to turn for assurance that some overarching ethos might inform and guide all aspects and elements of today’s and tomorrow’s internationalisation of higher education?

One shining example is the United Nations Academic Impact or UNAI, which is "a global initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in furthering the realisation of the purposes and mandate of the organisation through activities and research in a shared culture of intellectual social responsibility”.

Membership in the UNAI is open to all institutions of higher education granting degrees or their equivalent, as well as to bodies whose substantive responsibilities relate to the conduct of research.

Launched at the UN’s New York headquarters in 2010 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the then president of the International Association of University Presidents or IAUP, Dr J Michael Adams, the formation of the UNAI was a collaboration between the UN Department of Public Information and IAUP.

Currently the UNAI has more than 1,000 institutional signatories worldwide. It is informed by a commitment to support and advance the following 10 basic or core principles:
  • • 1- A commitment to the principles inherent in the United Nations Charter as values that education seeks to promote and help fulfil;
  • • 2- A commitment to human rights, among them freedom of inquiry, opinion and speech;
  • • 3- A commitment to educational opportunity for all people regardless of gender, race, religion or ethnicity;
  • • 4- A commitment to the opportunity for every interested individual to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for the pursuit of higher education;
  • • 5- A commitment to building capacity in higher education systems across the world;
  • • 6- A commitment to encouraging global citizenship through education;
  • • 7- A commitment to advancing peace and conflict resolution through education;
  • • 8- A commitment to addressing issues of poverty through education;
  • • 9- A commitment to promoting sustainability through education;
  • • 10- A commitment to promoting inter-cultural dialogue and understanding, and the 'unlearning' of intolerance, through education.
Surely, within the principles of the UNAI, responsible parties can find ethical guidance for any and all aspects of existing and emerging global tertiary education.

It is the belief of this writer that ours is an inherently noble profession, with an intrinsic ethos, which ideally is taught, practised, valued and modelled by all of us who choose to participate. All participants – direct and indirect – share the responsibility and the obligation to prepare tomorrow’s citizens, both local and global, which we must never forget or allow to be sacrificed for profit, expediency or ideology.

Neal King is chair of the board of directors and president emeritus of the International Association of University Presidents and is an advisory board member of the Association of Universities of Asia and the Pacific. In addition, he recently co-edited a two volume work, Strategies for University Management (Business Expert Press, 2016), which offers points of view of university presidents and other thought leaders from different cultural and geopolitical perspectives.