22 Jan 2014

Ubuntu: I am who I am because of you

Ubuntu and higher educationAre international education associations living in their own bubble? What do they do to create access and equity for people and ideas from emerging or developing countries? How can they work together to advance the internationalisation of the higher education agenda? These were some of the questions contemplated by the leaders of key international higher education organisations who gathered in Port Elizabeth, South Africa last week to discuss the future agenda of the internationalisation of higher education.

This Global Dialogue was a first in its kind and was initiated and hosted by the EAIE’s sister organisation, the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA). One of the aims was to have an “in-depth discussion about the power relationships that currently drive the world of higher education internationalisation”, and – one may add – the discourse about internationalisation.

A gated world?

Early on in the discussions the concept of complicity was introduced. We were asked to consider our own complicity in the current state of international higher education. What role do we play or have we played in internationalisation becoming so commercially driven, or in facilitating internationalisation practices that exclude people, countries or regions? What role have we played in internationalisation forming a gated world where we decide who we let in and on which terms?

A paradigm shift

It was interesting to see how individuals from different regions of the world, with their own organisation’s ambitions, challenges, and agendas went through a process that started off with hope and enthusiasm, end with a dip of confusion as the first day drew to a close. In the course of the second day however, we found mutual ground to start working towards a new agenda. Talks about a paradigm shift gradually evolved into talk of micro revolutions and baby steps; realistic and concrete. Reminders of accomplishments, such as the IAU Call for Action and the International Student Mobility Charter, encouraged us that the glass is not half empty, but half full.

The future of internationalisation

The question of how to use our networks to empower the powerless was answered by the statement and the conviction that this first global dialogue and its ideas should be followed up with actions of different kinds. The first step was already taken by organising this dialogue and creating more inclusive, fruitful discussions than ever before. But maybe the greatest lesson learned for all of us working in higher education associations was the simple phrase of equity popularised by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu: “I am who I am because of you (Ubuntu).” In the long run, internationalisation can only succeed if we treat each other equally, respectfully and are open to learn from all. If we do not, we will be locked in the paradigm of short term gains, discourse of ‘industry’ and ‘return on investment’. The fact that our sister organisation in South Africa organised this event should be seen as symbolic.

Check out the important declaration which was formed at this Global Dialogue and discover what Hans de Wit had to say on the meeting in this University World News article.

By Leonard Engel, EAIE Executive Director and Hans-Georg van Liempd, EAIE President

Gloabl Dialogue attendees

Leaders from 24 international education organisations from around the world gathered in Port Elizabeth, South Africa for the Global Dialogue