The best laid plans: the road to 2026

The best laid plans: the road to 2026

As Vice President of the EAIE from 2018 to 2020, my tenure has coincided with the most challenging time for our sector. It has also fallen during the development of the new strategic plan that will lead us forward to 2026.

As a Scot, it is a requirement to embrace the work of Rabbie Burns, our national bard. His famous poem ‘To a mouse’ includes the well-known lines warning us that things don’t always go to plan, and that man is vulnerable to nature: "The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry", and "man's dominion has broken nature's social union".

Crafting a plan during a crisis in which we are vulnerable to things we have no control over is not ideal – but it is essential.

Pivoting to the future

Despite everything we have faced since March 2020, the 2018–2020 EAIE Leadership team has collectively shaped the formation of the new strategy, ensuring that the process reflected our values of being inclusive, collaborative and inspiring. This approach has, I believe, resulted in a strengthening of the shared vision of the EAIE and a commitment to ensuring we align our expertise and resources to support our vision.

Strategic planning for an organisation like ours – with more than 3000 members, 6300 conference attendees and led by over 120 volunteers – relies on consultation and input from across our community. Over the past 18 months we have deployed various tools to engage, ranging from surveys to one-on-one interviews with stakeholders, including sister organisations.

One notable stage of the consultation process took place at a pivotal time. In February 2020, at the Joint Leadership Meeting, we brought over 120 people together to contribute to our 2020+ strategy development. We were fortunate enough to have Will Archer (founder of i-graduate) with us to explore scenarios and to consider the future operating environment. Will emphasised the need to consider the impact of technology on international education and to look out for “unforeseen events, typically with extreme consequences”.

Preparing for the unknown

At that time, we could not have foreseen the impact that COVID-19 would have on our lives, nor could we envisage how it would affect the higher education sector and international student mobility. Now, as we launch our new strategy, we do so at a time when we are all trying to prepare for a largely unknown future. With so many moving parts, this is a real challenge, but we are being compelled to explore new ways to collaborate. Through the series of community events we have hosted, it is clear that there are many compelling and thoughtful insights being generated and shared within our community. I know the EAIE Community Exchange in October will provide a great platform to explore these ideas and plans in more detail.

The test of a good strategy is whether it sets a clear course while allowing enough flexibility and agility to tackle emerging issues. I am confident that the 2020–2026 Strategy provides an excellent framework to help chart a course through these challenging times. Our 2020–2026 Strategy sets out how we will remain true to our vision of “an equitable world in which international education connects diverse perspectives and fosters greater understanding”.

In the 2020–2026 period, the EAIE will:

Demonstrate impact – Drive responsible and impactful international education

Enable the sector – Be the premier platform enabling the international education sector to flourish and evolve

Influence and engage – Communicate the power and potential of international education to serve society

This month I will take on the role of President of the EAIE and I have paused for thought on the final reflections in ‘To a mouse’ which reminds us that we cannot predict the future and signals a warning: "I backward cast my eye on prospects dreary! And forward, though I cannot see, I guess and fear!"

The next two years will be a testing time for all of us. We will be pushed to forge new ways of working and create new collaborative models. Fear is often rooted in not knowing what to expect: fear of change. I am optimistic we can change things for the better and that we will, as we have done before, respond creatively and enthusiastically in order to shape a better future. For more on what you can expect, read the EAIE Strategy 2026.

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Michelle Stewart
University of Strathclyde, United KingdomMichelle is President of the EAIE and Director Internationalisation (Humanities & Social Sciences) at the University of Strathclyde.