21 student affairs associations to create global info network

How to strengthen the global communications network of student affairs in higher education was the topic of a virtual meeting of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS) that brought together 21 national and international associations from across the globe and 50 of their leaders. The meeting launched a communications network to boost information flow worldwide.

There is a growing need to bolster umbrella bodies that support and shape the international context of student affairs, it was agreed at the two-hour meeting held on 17 September 2020.

The key to the success of a global network will be an emphasis on local relevance, listening to local concerns and needs and responding to them in collaboration with indigenous role players, while using the global network to source innovations.

The current global higher education crisis enables us to share wisdom on a global level, but the local impacts need to be relevant, collaborative and respectful of local customs, cultures and social norms – and be driven by local, embedded student affairs professionals.

Communications network

The meeting focused on introducing the associations to each other, recognising common challenges, identifying opportunities and developing shared solutions. It served to strengthen the community of practice of student affairs and regional collaboration among associations.

The key outcome was establishing the communications network that will ensure information flow to and from local contexts. Now the task is to create a firm and robust information network that reaches far into higher education institutions across the world while sharing information, innovations and lessons learned on a global level.

Each association that represents national or regional student affairs practitioners will be part of this ‘push and pull’ information flow network, being able to supply information, news and updates while also drawing on the information to suit local needs.

Some current challenges

The meeting also explored current challenges faced by higher education student affairs and services, which included concerns around reduced staffing because of lower enrolment and that the overarching social justice agenda might get neglected.

The latter encompasses the potential neglect of students with unique needs, students who require accommodation on campus, and concerns that current divides may be accentuated instead of reduced – including ethnic, race, religious and socio-economic divides that may be widened by lack of personal real-time, real-place engagement.

Supporting the mental health concerns of students and staff was a burning challenge, along with feelings of ‘online fatigue’ and ‘compassion fatigue’ and ‘anxiety’.

Participants identified opportunities and agreed that online virtual avenues for support and engagement are likely here to stay, and that this avenue may well create wider inclusion for some groups of students and also augment face-to-face support and development provisions.

Students miss the on-campus learning and development offered through student affairs and services, adding value to their work.

These times offer an opportunity, as wisely noted by Dr Saloschini Pillay, president of the Southern African Federation for Student Affairs and Services, to decide how to make campuses ‘COVID-19 proof’’ and to use this experience to prepare for other crises in future.

Countries that experienced severe student activism and contestation a few years back appear to have been better prepared for COVID-19. It is exactly these lessons – especially from Latin America, Africa, Canada and other regions and countries, that need to be shared among student affairs professionals.

According to Christie White, president of the Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association, the meeting “makes the world a smaller place” by reducing isolationist and nationalistic trends in current times.

Said Achim Meyer auf der Heyde of Deutsches Studentenwerk, who is president of IASAS: “Student Affairs sit at the forefront of bringing students and institutions together.” He stressed that the platform needs to be leveraged to maximise its reach and penetration into areas that need support.

A challenge for most student affairs and services associations is to improve equitable conditions at university and in the socio-cultural-economic context into which institutions are embedded – and this is particularly pronounced during COVID-19 times, when students step off campuses into social-economic inequalities.

Biennial global summit

Every two years IASAS hosts a global summit and invites leaders in higher education student affairs and services to debate critical global issues. The global summits have been held in Washington DC (2012), Rome (2014), Cape Town (2016) and Santiago (2018).

The summit planned for 2020 in Toronto will be held virtually in 2021 to ensure continuity of building networks and conversation around shared issues and challenges.

While participants at the inaugural global associations meeting recognised the troubling times – pained by the COVID-19 pandemic, marred by political malice from superpowers, demands for overdue equal rights for minority groups, gender violence and an insufficient concern about acute environmental decline – opportunities were recognised, too.

The most unintended and yet constructive consequence of the current COVID-19 restrictions is the reliance on virtual media to connect – thus shrinking our world.

Rob Shea, past president of IASAS from Canada, concluded the meeting with the firm message that the global meeting communicated that “we are not alone”.

During times dominated by fear of contagion, the virtual meeting attended by student affairs and services leaders from far-flung corners of the world, reduced the contagion of fear. More of us were, for longer, in more direct conversations than we had ever been before.

Collaboration is important

This part of international collaboration among like-minded associations is more important than ever. Reaching across borders has never been this easy and, albeit only virtually, we shrink geographical and temporal distances and thus also socio-cultural distances, and realise our shared mission and common humanity.

Indeed, being world citizens, we share global burdens but we also learn from each other how to maximise the opportunities in our contexts.

More of these global virtual meetings will be held to bring student affairs into closer virtual proximity, learning from global partners and acting locally for the university community. These are valuable goals worth pursuing.

The attending associations included:

ACPA – College Student Educators International (United States)

ACUHO-I – Association of College and University Housing Officers International, United States

AHEAD – Association on Higher Education and Disability (United States)

AMOSSHE – Student Services Organisation (United Kingdom)

ANZSSA – Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association

CACUSS – Canadian Association of College & University Services

CAS – Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (United States)

ASET – Work Based and Placement Learning Association (United Kingdom)

CTLPA – Caribbean Tertiary Level Personnel Association

DSW – Deutsches Studentenwerk (Germany)

EucA – European University College Association (Belgium)

HKSSA – Hong Kong Student Services Association

KOSAF – Korean Student Aid Foundation

MSAA – Macao Student Affairs Association

NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (United States)

NODA – Association for Orientation, Transition & Retention in Higher Education (United States)

PACSA – Philippines Association of Campus Advisers

PAPSAS – Philippine Association of Practitioners of Student Affairs and Services Inc

SAASSAP – South African Senior Student Affairs Professionals

SAFSAS – South African Federation for Student Affairs and Services

SAI – Student Affairs Ireland