Facing today's challenges by facing outward

Facing today's challenges by facing outward Geneva 2018

The 30th Annual EAIE Conference and Exhibition is not isolated from the world in which we live. The Opening Plenary of the 2018 Conference demonstrated this by engaging with current issues in internationalisation and the political dynamics that so often affect the work of internationalisation. As our four distinguished speakers lined up to frame the theme of ‘facing outward’, they asked the audience to consider what exactly it is we are facing and to what end.

The kick-off of the 30th Annual EAIE Conference and Exhibition was framed not only by the physical setting of Geneva – a world city full of international organisations and with a history of global cooperation – but also the current reality in which we live and the novel challenges it presents to international educators.

The EAIE and the challenges of today

EAIE President Markus Laitinen began the plenary with a powerful speech on the EAIE’s role in addressing these challenges, looking at what the conference theme of ‘facing outward’ means to us as international educators.

“On the one hand, we guide students, staff and faculty to engage with the world beyond our borders and very concretely face outward from their home setting,” Laitinen said, referencing the traditional focus on student mobility in internationalisation. “But on the other hand ‘facing outward’ can be understood for us as international educators to engage with society at large, including people who do not necessarily share our points of view.”

Illustrating how the EAIE has ‘faced outward’, he mentioned several concrete actions the EAIE has taken, such as establishing an LGBTQ+ taskforce and measures to make the Annual EAIE Conference as green and sustainable as possible. Such actions are in accordance with the newly launched EAIE values, the core principles that have motivated our activities for the last three decades and which we have formalised at the 30th Annual Conference: collaborative, excellence, inspiring and inclusive.

Coming together to defend academic freedom

Michael Ignatieff, Rector of the Central European University, also discussed the turbulent world we live and work in as international educators. His work defending academic freedom at Central European University, for which he was presented with the 2018 Constance Meldrum Award for Vision and Leadership, illustrates how we need each other in times like these.

The outpouring of support from the international education community seen by the Central European University is proof of what we can accomplish when we come together and act as one. If one university is under attack, all universities are. Academic freedom should never be part of a polarised political debate.

Facing outward to oppose hate

When keynote speaker Sally Kohn took the stage, she asked us to ‘face outward’ in using internationalisation as a tool to fight hate. Asserting that hate is within all of us, Kohn argued that while our ‘hardware’ as humans leaves us predisposed to fear and exclusion, we can reprogram our ‘software’ to be more compassionate.

A community activist since her youth, Kohn’s experiences led her to write the book The opposite of hate, which offers several practical tips of interest to international higher education professionals. Citing several scientific studies of unconscious racial bias, Kohn argued that the best way to cure hate and improve the world we live in is by fostering more mixed and diverse groups through interventions like international education. The work we do, Kohn argued, is that of facilitating this diversity and exposure to different groups of people, thereby “preparing humans for a more humane world”.

As we face outward in Geneva, let us remember the true value of our role in creating this more humane world. We hope this year’s conference participants will rise to Sally Kohn’s call and that of the EAIE values, for the sake of advancing internationalisation and for the sake of global society.