14 Sep 2022

A colourful reunion at #EAIE2022



It’s great to be back! After two years apart, the 32nd Annual EAIE Conference and Exhibition kicked into full gear with an invigorating Opening Plenary, where EAIE President Michelle Stewart officially welcomed participants to Barcelona and BBC journalist Yalda Hakim’s keynote speech helped us all connect the dots between today’s headlines and our day-to-day work in international education.

The 2022 EAIE Conference and Exhibition in Barcelona is in many ways one for the history books. With well over 6200 participants, it is officially the largest EAIE Conference to date. Perhaps more importantly, it was also the first opportunity in more than two years for Europe’s international higher education sector to come together in person, and the excitement at finally being reunited was palpable in the Opening Plenary.

Serving global society

Music by Catalonian band Sabor de Gracia filled the auditorium as conference participants streamed in to the Opening Plenary by the hundreds. Adding to the uniqueness of EAIE 2022, Michelle Stewart’s address at the Plenary was the first opportunity the current EAIE President has had to address the Association and its members live and in person. Michelle’s tenure as President has been an extraordinary one, spanning the COVID-19 pandemic and the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, two events that have had a profound impact on our sector, and the women and men who comprise it.

In addressing participants, Michelle highlighted the need for the EAIE and for international education in general to serve the global community. The Sector superheroes: 2022 EAIE Award winners were presented as examples of what such service looks like, as were the many sustainability initiatives surrounding the 2022 Conference, from the emphasis on EAIE signs on to important climate action agreement to the responsibly sourced conference bags, which include substantially less paper products than in previous years. In many ways, the 2022 Opening Plenary was a victory lap for Michelle and the 2020–2022 EAIE Leadership who have shepherded the Association through these uniquely challenging times.

Whenever there is conflict, uncertainty or upheaval, one of the first things to disappear are women and children, and their access to education

Among the 2022 EAIE Award winners was the Ukrainian higher education sector as a whole, which was recognised with the EAIE Award for Vision and Leadership for its response to the ongoing conflict. Michelle took one final opportunity to acknowledge the particular difficulties faced by our Ukrainian colleagues in attending this year’s conference before ceding the stage to Gemma Geis i Carreras, Minister of Research and Universities of Catalonia. Gemma highlighted some of the efforts taken by Catalan universities to host students and researchers displaced by the war in Ukraine, and underscored the importance of forging new connections with the Ukrainian higher education sector to help rebuild after the conflict.

International education from Afghanistan to Ukraine

This set the scene for BBC journalist and keynote speaker Yalda Hakim to take the stage. In her 15 years as a journalist, Yalda has visited many conflict zones, and it is her observation that “Whenever there is conflict, uncertainty or upheaval, one of the first things to disappear are women and children, and their access to education.” Having been born in Afghanistan and moved to Australia at the age of 7, Yalda has experienced this first hand.

In her keynote speech, Yalda drew parallels between the current situation for women and girls in Afghanistan and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine: both have brought young people’s education to a stand-still, and in both cases, those affected are left wondering if the international community cares. Another parallel she pointed out is that of the role of institutions and policy-makers: referring to the situation in Afghanistan, she says, “When you go to these remote villages, it isn’t their culture or their religion that’s preventing them from education, it is those people who have become decision-makers.”

They know education is a ticket out for them, but do you know that? What programmes can be developed to support these young people?

Roughly 220 million children across the globe – in Ukraine, Afghanistan and elsewhere – are having their right to an education threatened. Turning to the audience of the Opening Plenary, she posed a question: “They know education is a ticket out for them, but do you know that? What programmes can be developed to support these young people?”

The 2022 EAIE Conference serves as a joyous reunion with the international education community, and a reminder of the power of that very community to affect far-reaching change in the world. Let Yalda’s call to action be our guiding light this week as we come together to imagine the beauty of a full-colour future in Barcelona.

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