Core values in our everyday work

Core values in our everyday work

Core values can serve as a compass in your daily work in higher education. They can help guide you in the right direction when the landscape is complex or foggy, and being proactive about implementing policies that support core higher education values may even help your institution avoid some of this difficult terrain altogether. 

Broadly speaking, these core values include: academic freedom, institutional autonomy, equitable access, social responsibility and accountability. Support for these five core values is drawn from the 1997 recommendation concerning the status of higher education teaching personnel adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO, and also from other UNESCO instruments, international human rights law and related civil society statements.

The Academic Refuge project, to which EAIE is an associate partner, also highlighted its work on values in higher education at the EAIE Conference in Geneva. In our workshop at the conference, we looked at how to work proactively with the core higher education values in order to avoid conflicts over values in international cooperation and to be prepared for values incidents, if they happen. In addition, the Academic Refuge project has made a short animation explaining the core values.

Values in everyday life

The good news is that integrating values is not new work, but rather a framework for communicating how you approach your current work, as you already make decisions that implicate these values in many situations. For example:

  • Did you reach out with information about the international scholarship to all the relevant students, so the best candidate could get it? In doing so, you would be ensuring that your scholarship supports equitable access and academic freedom.
  • Did you make sure the invited speaker would get an opportunity to give her controversial lecture, but also get critical questions from the audience? In this solution, you would be balancing academic freedom, equitable access and social responsibility.
  • How could you find the balance between the interests of the funding body and the needs of the academic community? You may need to consider how to harmonise accountability with autonomy and academic freedom.

In all of these questions, the ‘right’ answer can be difficult to define precisely, but you know you are on the right path when you are considering all stakeholders – including students, faculty, administration, and staff, among others – and how your decision implicates all the core values of your institution. In international partnerships, you will also consider implications for your partner institutions.

Responsible international higher education at the EAIE Conference

International organisations are also focusing on these questions. For the current strategy period 2016-20, the EAIE is focusing on promoting ‘responsible’ international higher education. This was visible in the 2018 Annual EAIE Conference in Geneva, not just from the EAIE leadership focusing on academic freedom in the Opening Plenary and formally launching the EAIE values, but also from other sessions offered. With large global challenges in combination with pressure on the higher education sector in many countries, more and more university staff sees the need to take the core higher education values down from the pedestal and discuss the values-related challenges we encounter in our daily work.

There were several sessions on ethics and values at the EAIE conference 2018. In the session ‘Ethical challenges for institutions in international collaboration’, participants were asked if it is OK to involve the outgoing students in their own risk assessment by asking the students if characteristics such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation or religion may increase their risks in certain countries. Asking these questions may help to protect students, but it would also be important to consider how such an assessment would implicate values such as equitable access, social responsibility and academic freedom.

In the session ‘Internationalisation ethics: Who's right? Who's wrong? Who knows?’, advice was given in relation to developing international strategies. We were reminded of brain drain, academic imperialism, homogenisation of knowledge, increased carbon footprint and uneven distribution of benefits as part of the ‘dark side’ of internationalisation. When drafting or revising an internationalisation strategy, it’s good to remember that there might be negative side effects even when you have good intentions. Some advice would be to intend no harm, to see internationalisation in a wider context and ensure mutual benefit.

An ongoing commitment to core values

Core higher education values are also the basis of the curriculum for the MOOC Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters, which the Academic Refuge project has produced, where you can learn about academic freedom, and examine how core values are implicated in and propose responses to hypothetical cases. In June we had more than 1000 participants from 98 countries. The MOOC, which is free and open, will run again from 29 October 2018.

In the third and last year of the Academic Refuge project, we want to continue encouraging higher education institutions to defend academic freedom and values and providing them with the information necessary to host at-risk scholars. You can find more information on our ongoing initiatives, including our current survey of core higher education values in practice, at the Academic Refuge website.

Marit Egner
University of Oslo, NorwayMarit Egner is Project Coordinator of the Academic Refuge project, and is also a former EAIE Board Member.

Lauren Crain
Scholars at Risk, USALauren Crain is the Director of Research and Learning at Scholars at Risk, where she develops and manages public programming, workshops, trainings, publications and other activities.