Call for more cross-border solidarity on student affairs

The world requires solidarity on student affairs via networks, collaboration, and mutual support in times of crisis, now more than ever, according to the conclusions of a meeting of 15 higher education student affairs associations hosted by the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS).

“The aim of the meeting was to broaden the network and deepen the relationships across borders and regions and communities and the communities of support, and align higher education student affairs, student support and development agendas among institutions to help widen access to higher education across the globe,” said Andrea Strachan, IASAS regional director for Oceania region.

IASAS is a global network of student affairs and services associations which supports the global community of practitioners in student affairs, student support and development and student services to deepen research, scholarship and practice.

The meeting, held in November, heard about COVID-19 related challenges and achievements and looked at how to fortify solidarity across regions, based on shared and also local issues, so as to bolster the position of students and institutions in advancing the goals of higher education and the Sustainable Development Goals more broadly.

While the wealthier countries are beginning to return to a more stable and predictable higher education context, the disadvantaged regions, mainly in the Global South, especially Africa, are facing significant challenges as a result of COVID-19, participants were told.

These included that the vaccinations available in Africa are by and large insufficient due to a range of reasons, including difficulties with speedy roll-out due to infrastructure challenges and also due to the hoarding of vaccines by some wealthier countries.

In addition, distrust of governments and authority, and a persistent anti-scientific stance in some parts of the world and within some countries made some vaccination roll-out programmes ineffectual.

The bracketing out of countries via travel bans isolates these countries and deepens their already fragile economies, widening the wealth and gender gap, and intensifying the crises these countries are dealing with, the participants were told.

Participants shared other challenges such as the impact of climate change on their contexts, challenges around indigenous reconciliations, securing mental health support options for students and staff, the digital divide and access to reliable and stable Wi-Fi networks, student employability and career services during economic insecurity, the success of students returning to our campuses, and the well-being of staff.

Community partnerships, partnering across regions and supporting institutions regionally have been an important source of support for student affairs and services practitioners to manage the many challenges facing students and their institutions, highlighting the importance of solidarity, the meeting was told.

Vaccine inequity is only one aspect of global inequity that was discussed. Participants emphasised the importance of global responses to global problems and that leaving out or bracketing regions is unethical and delays the achievement of globally shared goals.

Participants highlighted concern about the crises in Afghanistan and Ethiopia, climate disasters in the Caribbean, and the slow progress at COP26, and gave examples of how these issues impact not only locally but have implications for wider regions.

Putting solidarity into practice

They discussed how to put solidarity into practice and highlighted the importance of higher education internationalisation to advance awareness and knowledge of different regions and cultures and their challenges.

“Internationalisation should not only rely on mobility programmes, but rather focus on ‘internationalisation at home’, focusing on processes and structures in a way that local practices are inclusive of international realities, thus spreading the internationalisation benefits to a broader group of students, staff and institutions,” said Birgit Schreiber, vice president of IASAS.

Mental health appeared as a recurrent theme with the international associations expressing concern about the deterioration of mental health among students and also staff in higher education.

Higher education can play a key role in the education of students around building solidarity with regions that face crises. “An example is how institutions are partnering with external entities to offer data packages for students, creating self-help guides, assisting financially in times of weather disasters, and sharing resources with practitioners regionally,” said Lisa Bardill Moscaritolo, general secretary of IASAS.

“Overall discussions supported international dialogue opportunities for peace-building and providing support and included the creation of a new competency framework for graduates and graduate attributes for sustainability competences and confidences,” said Mirela Mazalu, a board member of IASAS.

The associations attending this international meeting affirmed their commitment to educating students towards recognising their responsibility in shaping an equitable world, through international cooperation and mutual support.

The associations will meet again at the IASAS Global Summit in Ireland in mid-2022.