The EAIE stands with international education associations worldwide

The EAIE stands with international education associations worldwide

There is no doubt that for many of us working in internationalisation of higher education, the first reaction to the crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic was one of despair. And justifiably so, given that internationalisation is probably the aspect of higher education that has been most adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

All types of academic mobility (both for students and staff) – as well as travel for events such as conferences, seminars and meetings – almost came to a complete halt. All of the things we were used to spending most of our working time on – and that we probably enjoyed most in our jobs – suddenly stopped. We do not know how or when these core activities in our field will resume. Uncertainty reigns sovereign.

Meanwhile, our world suddenly seems much smaller. Countries are retreating inside national borders, concentrating on national affairs, and the same is true for higher education institutions. At a time when institutions are faced with such compelling issues as simply ensuring the health and safety of students and staff, as well as sustaining the ‘core business’ of effective teaching and learning in this time of crisis, who has the time and energy to care about internationalisation?

In the face of all of these troubles and challenges, no one among us should be blamed for having thought at least once: “Well, this is the end for us”.

Strength in numbers – and in international higher education

Such feelings are completely understandable and we should not feel ashamed of our occasional despair. But giving up and retreating would be a terrible mistake. If there is one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, it is that a global challenge cannot be overcome by national or local responses; it must be met by a coordinated global response. Global challenges need global solutions.

In this sense, it’s also clear that, now more than ever, we need international higher education and research to advance all of the right kinds of agendas that will lead us forward. Now more than ever we need globally competent citizens who can understand global challenges; we need researchers who collaborate to find solutions to global problems; we need higher education institutions which put their knowledge at service of society. An agenda for fostering support for international higher education, crafted in a global forum but keenly sensitive to national and institutional interests and realities around the world, could be a particularly useful resource at this highly sensitive moment. Happily, the Network of International Education Associations (NIEA) has done just that.

Reaffirmations and a call to action

The NIEA, which is coordinated by the International Association of Universities (IAU) and of which the EAIE is an active member, is comprised of more than a dozen international education associations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas. In its ongoing work to “advance international higher education to improve the quality of higher education and research,” the NIEA has recently released a statement reaffirming the importance of international higher education and research, with a call to action for both governments and higher education institutions around the world.

At its heart, the NIEA statement urges these key stakeholders – and all of us, really – to reconsider and/or recommit to what we do in our field, how we do it and the rationales that motivate us. Among its core messages, the NIEA statement encourages us to reframe this crisis as an opportunity to rethink and reinvent the way we have traditionally worked in internationalisation of higher education. For example, developing different kinds of partnerships and fostering new modes of collaboration should play a prominent role moving forward.

We should also take steps to use the tools which were already in our grasp, but which we did not exploit to their full potential. Collaborative online international learning (COIL) represents a key example of this kind of rethinking of the resources we have out our fingertips that could be more effectively deployed. The extent and the ways in which we incorporate Internationalisation at Home as well as co-curricular programming also requires renewed attention.

Crucially, the NIEA statement also calls us – urgently – to correct the inequalities inherent in many aspects of the internationalisation processes in our countries and in our institutions. Increasing diversity and eliminating discrimination will require us to “actively work to discover, uncover and dismantle implicit systems of oppression”. This difficult work holds the promise of helping us “ensure the benefits and opportunities offered by international higher education are more equitably shared”.

The world is facing an enormous set of challenges, now and in the mid to longer term. By clarifying at a global level our shared agendas and objectives within the field of international higher education, the NIEA offers an example of solidarity and commitment to shared understanding and actions that can make a positive difference at a moment of great need. The world needs international higher education, the world needs our work. We – as individuals, institutions and the global higher education community – need to act in ways that effectively answer that call.

Read the full text of the NIEA statement.

Special thanks to Giorgio Marinoni, Coordinator of the Network of International Education Associations, for contributing to this post.

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