"What a human brain can imagine, can be achieved"

It’s Wednesday, it’s EAIE Conference week, and that means one thing: a buzzing conference centre filled with thousands of international educators all fresh-faced and eager to start their conference adventure. Exhibition stands are up, the coffee and tea (and for some, the wine) are flowing, and all around the vast conference venue old friends greet each other with gusto, while newcomers find their feet with open eyes and eager minds. The largest international higher education conference is underway. Are you in?

Over 5000 people have joined us in Prague for the 26th Annual EAIE Conference. So just how do you kick off such an epic event? With a packed Opening Plenary and a refreshingly humourous and inspiring keynote speaker is certainly a good start. The Opening Plenary saw EAIE President Hans-Georg van Liempd officially begin conference proceedings (for the last time in his presidency reign), and the Lord Mayor of Prague welcomed participants to the city, speaking of the importance of higher education to the Czech Republic. Tens of thousands of foreign students choose the Czech Republic as their study destination every year and the Mayor stressed the importance of students gaining awareness of international issues for the future global economy.

The Prague Castle Orchestra made a number of appearances throughout the plenary, giving us taste of a Czech marching band, and provided the perfect prelude to this year’s opening keynote, the very dynamic and charismatic Chairman of Microsoft Europe, Jan Muehlfeit.

Find success in your strengths

Jan has been working with Microsoft for over 20 years and his natural flair for leadership, combined with his passion for change, led him into his present-day high-profile role. According to Jan, if you are to succeed in working with others, you must first know yourself. You must know your strengths, and forget your weaknesses. Seventy-five percent of your strengths come from the inherent talent that you are born with and 25% come from your experiences. Jan heavily emphasised the notion that we need to work on our strengths, not our weaknesses, which goes against much of the traditional teaching in schools and universities, and much of the way many organisations (including Microsoft before Jan instigated a dramatic change) are set up. Why struggle to improve something that you are probably never going to excel at when you could be spending the time working on the talents that could generate real change in the world?

This led Jan on to the importance of teachers and lecturers in unlocking the potential of their students: “Every student is a genius,” he quoted one of his children’s favourite teachers as saying.

Embrace technology

Jan is a strong believer in the power of technology and spoke of the exponential technology curve that a previous keynote speaker (Jack Uldrich) also highlighted. Education is lagging behind almost all other sectors with its use of technology, and this needs to change if we are going to create the graduates we need in the future. Jan pointed out that for the first time in history, younger generations are more knowledgeable than the older generations in their understanding of technology, and that we need to adapt our teaching practices to enable these new technologies to help educate the next generation of students for the increasingly global job market.

To get the inspirational juices flowing, Jan appealed to all of the John Lennon fans in the audience, by serenading us with a few lines from ‘Imagine’ (“You may say I’m a dreamer…”) and quoting a famous climber, Reinhold Messner, the first person to climb Mount Everest without using an oxygen aid despite being told by 9 out of 10 experts that it was impossible. “What a human brain can imagine, can be achieved.” A great sentiment to take with you into the coming conference days as you push the boundaries of your own knowledge and take inspiration from the collective enthusiasm for our shared goal: empowering the word’s citizens through international education.

So go on, as Jan urged us, dream a little. And then act. Here’s to an inspiring and rewarding conference!