When national politics meet international education

When national politics meet international education EAIE Forum

So much of the work we do as international educators plays out in very immediate ways around us: we run programmes at our institutions, we work with students and faculty present directly in our midst, we engage with partners on a person-to-person and institution-to-institution basis. At the same time, we’re also connected to a range of international programmes and initiatives that may operate as a result of broader multilateral or intergovernmental agreements; the obvious example here, of course, is Erasmus+. But, somewhere in the middle, between our institutional or ‘local’ realities and the broader international schemes we’ve come to know so well, there’s an exceedingly important and fascinating realm that also has an important bearing on our work: national-level dynamics.

(Inter)national policies and politics

This week, the EAIE releases the Summer 2018 issue of Forum magazine, with an eye specifically on the question of how national policies and politics intersect with the world of international higher education – and there is much to consider in this discussion.

The specific policies countries put forward in relation to everything from immigration to employment, language of instruction to the legal status of persons, research funding agendas to national economic development plans, can all have a major impact on a nation’s higher education sector and, by extension, its internationalisation profile and priorities.

Meanwhile, the political landscape presented by countries can similarly exert all kinds of influences over international higher education developments, both in terms of substance and when it comes to the powerful realm of public perception. First and foremost, political developments can obviously have a direct impact on policy development and implementation. 

Equally, however, the ‘theatre’ of politics – the drama of campaigns, the spectacle of public debate, the fascination (or repulsion) engendered by politicians as individuals or representatives of particular world views – has tangible effects on international education, both positive and negative. For example, Canada’s youthful, appealing Justin Trudeau, and the decidedly less ‘warm and fuzzy’ personas of various other world leaders (I’ll let each of you decide for yourselves which particular world leaders might fit that less flattering description) offer up several easy examples to point to here when it comes to the differing effects that national politics – and even individual political leaders – can exert. Indeed, it is not coincidental that the recent drop in international student applications to US higher education institutions is connected openly by many observers to a ‘Trump effect’.

The intersections of national dynamics and internationalisation

So, both across the current issue of Forum, and in a series of blog posts that will appear this week, our contributing authors provide us with a range of perspectives on how various national debates, realities and choices are playing out in relation to international higher education. These considerations take us from the Netherlands to New Zealand, from France to Taiwan, from India to Kazakhstan and beyond, in what is a particularly global treatment of this richly complex topic.

Anchoring the discussion is our interview with Michael Ignatieff, Rector and President of the Central European University in Budapest. His insights reinforce a key message for me in relation to this conversation about ‘national versus international’ dynamics, which is essentially that the national and international interests in play need not be considered exclusively as an either/or choice, but that these dynamics can actually be mutually reinforcing.

What continues to fascinate me in this discussion is the powerful, ongoing relevance of the nation-state in both advancing and limiting the achievement of the full potential of the human race, particularly through person-to-person engagement and the development of new frontiers of knowledge that will be essential to the survival of the planet in the coming decades. This fundamental contradiction will be with us for some time, and will continue to both confound us and – I trust! – inspire us to new levels of commitment and action in our work as international educators.

Summer Forum is here!

How can partnerships help institutions overcome the challenges of national policies and politics? What does Rector and President of Central European University Michael Ignatieff have to say on protecting academic freedom in complex political times? Find out in the Summer 2018 issue of Forum, the EAIE member magazine.

Laura E. Rumbley
Boston College Center for International Higher Education, USALaura is Associate Director of the Boston College Center for International Higher Education and currently serves as Chair of the EAIE Publications Committee.