25 Mar 2021

The impact imperative: reflections from the second EAIE Community Summit



The second EAIE Community Summit brought together more than 750 professionals working in international higher education from across Europe and the world for two days of online learning and networking. Focusing on the theme of ‘The impact imperative’, this community gathering drilled down into the various aspects of making an impact during these pandemic times and in the post-pandemic future that awaits.

Now more than ever, the international higher education community needs and wants to make a difference in the work we do. But what is impact, and what does it look like during a global pandemic? These were the questions answered and explored over the two days. Hamish Coates of Tsinghua University kicked off the virtual gathering with a forward-looking keynote address on ‘Meeting the demands of the impact imperative’, leading directly into the first of four interactive sessions on individual pieces of the impact puzzle. In between sessions, participants made use of the coffee hours for some much-needed networking, which provided the opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues.

What is impact, and what does it look like during a global pandemic?

Here are some of the main highlights from the two-day online event.

The international office of the future

As the nature and scope of international education in Europe has evolved over the last two decades or more, so too has the profile of the international office. In the first session, Tayyeb Shah and Yulia Grinkevich dissected the evolving demands facing international offices and officers in discussing how they can respond to calls to deliver impact in new and different ways. They spoke to systemic shifts such as internationalisation becoming more “values-driven” and pivoting to sustainability, the evolving nature of partnerships and more.

The partnerships we need for today and tomorrow

Partnerships have always been central to our work in international higher education. Sara López-Selga of Pompeu Fabra University and Anna-Maria Salmi of the University of Helsinki came together to discuss how we can bolster existing partnerships while working towards new kinds of impactful collaborations. Highlighting the growing role of technology, the speakers emphasised that the future of partnerships won’t likely be entirely physical or entirely digital, but that the future is instead “phygital”.

High-impact online student experiences

With a year of operating in online environments under our belts, what have we learned about engaging students effectively in these contexts? Eva Haug and Mirjam Hauck unpacked this question in their stimulating discussion of what exactly constitutes a high-impact online experience. Their conversation covered the future of hybrid classrooms, the idea of generating impact without ever going abroad, and how virtual encounters can be intentionally employed to “bookend” physical encounters. This session clearly resonated with the audience, with participants commenting that it truly showed them that they could be doing more in the way of COIL in their own institutions.

Strategic planning and assessment for a new era

Rounding out the summit, we took a step back to think about the role of strategic planning and assessment of progress in achieving impact in our work. How can higher education institutions zero in on their most relevant aspirations and generate the impact they desire? Phil Baty of Times Higher Education and Anna Grönlund of the University of Jyväskylä discussed a range of approaches, from specific tools like foresight planning to the value of short-term planning while longer-term strategies are falling into place. Phil Baty later reflected on Twitter that the “great takeaway” of the session was that we need to use internationalisation “as a way of lifting each other up”.

Impact remains imperative

If the Community Summit revealed anything, it is that the desire to make a real impact remains central to the work we do in international higher education.

EAIE members will be able to re-watch the session recordings on the Member resources page in My EAIE. If you missed out on joining the Community Summit, stay tuned for upcoming EAIE events, such as the monthly Community Moment webcast and new Online Academy courses, that offer an opportunity to connect with the international education community.

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