New EAIE President is centre stage

New EAIE President is centre stage

The EAIE has stepped into a new era of leadership, with Laura Howard of the University of Cadiz – UCA, Spain, having officially taken on her new role as EAIE President at the Closing Plenary of the 26th Annual EAIE Conference in Prague. Find out more about Laura in this blog interview, including her vision of how the EAIE will evolve in the coming years and other little known facts about herself that she’s shared with us.

With the EAIE’s 25th anniversary this year, there’s been a lot of discussion about possible futures for international higher education. What does your vision for the EAIE look like and where should it be in the next five years?

The EAIE is constantly evolving, adapting itself to the changing circumstances and the needs and interests of its members. Recently, the whole leadership has participated in a process to restructure parts of the Association. Many of those changes are taking effect now, with the new set-up of the General Council being perhaps the most far-reaching. Adapting to change is not always easy, so one of my ambitions is to ensure that we can all work together to smooth out any bumps. I’m confident that the new structure will lead to a stronger, more focused association that will be able to provide even better services to its members.

Another aspect of the EAIE’s future that I consider fundamental is the development of what we have termed the ‘knowledge agenda’. If we are to fully achieve our ambition to be considered the ‘European centre for expertise in the internationalisation of higher education’, if we are to make our voice heard by decision makers and develop an active policy of advocacy, we need to be able to base our information and opinions on fact and knowledge obtained through research. The first steps have been taken with the EAIE Barometer. I would hope that within five years a functional knowledge agenda will have been articulated within the Association and that our ambitions in that respect will have been achieved.

You’ve done a lot of work with Latin America over the years. How do you see Latin America’s place on the international higher education world stage? What are the clear differences you see between different countries and their approaches to international education?

Like many universities in Spain, the University of Cadiz has a long history of very active partnership in Latin America, and over the years I have travelled many times to the region and participated in a large number of projects, programmes and partnership activities.

It isn’t easy to talk in general terms about such a diverse region that encompasses so many countries, but it’s safe to say that internationalisation of higher education is high on the agenda of HEIs. Some countries have already placed themselves firmly on the map: Brazil is an obvious example, with the Science without Borders programme forming the basis of a huge national effort to internationalise higher education. Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina are also big players – a small but relevant indicator being their significant presence at international conferences such as the EAIE and NAFSA.

There is a general tendency to look to Europe and the US as preferred partners for international engagement, instead of using intra-regional cooperation and exchange as a way to internationalise. This would help to strengthen the creation of the Latin American and Caribbean higher education area, which would in turn benefit the internationalisation of the region’s higher education community.

There is also an awareness that, in recent years, the emphasis of European and US interests in the region has swung away from development cooperation and capacity building towards student recruitment, and many Latin American universities try to counter this by attempting to ensure equal partnerships that can benefit all parties.

With many countries enjoying a healthy economic situation, a huge talent pool at their fingertips and the opportunity to learn from internationalisation experiences (both good and bad) of universities in other parts of the world, Latin America is definitely a region to watch.

As an English lecturer at a Spanish institution, what is your opinion with regard to English as a lingua franca within international education?

I think it’s undeniable that English is a sine que non in higher education – given the dominance of English in science, technology, politics, commerce and popular culture, it’s obvious that higher education graduates need to have at least a working knowledge of the language. In Andalusia, the region of Spain where I live and work, there has been a strong bilingual programme in primary and secondary public education for some years now. We still need to make sure students coming into higher education, especially those from these bilingual programmes, can be taught in English in at least some of their core subjects, which is not always the case at present.

I also think it’s important to be clear that teaching and learning in English is not equivalent to internationalisation – it’s only one of the factors that contribute to internationalising the curriculum and preparing our students to function in a globalised economy.

Where my opinion differs from that of some of my colleagues in Spain, however, is with regard to the necessity to offer courses taught in English as a way to attract international students. This may be the right path in countries where a minority language is spoken, but when this is not the case offering courses taught in English for international students is not always a successful strategy.

What is a little known fact about you?

According to my grandmother – and I’ve no reason to doubt her – I’m a descendant of Captain James Cook, the 18th century explorer, navigator and cartographer who changed western perceptions of world geography by mapping coastal waters of  New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific. He was born in Marton, a small village near the place where I spent my childhood, and Captain Cook’s monument up on the moors is a well-known local landmark clearly visible every time I visit my family in England. I wonder whether my taste for travelling may be in my genes!