Posted on 18 May 2021 at 10:16 by Vicky Lewis
One important theme that emerged from my interviews with senior HE sector stakeholders was the need for future global engagement strategies to articulate how the institution will address both global and local challenges. Our discussions focused on areas such as boosting sustainability and addressing inequalities.
Today’s blog provides an overview of some of the key points. It draws on Chapter 7 of my report – UK Universities’ Global Engagement Strategies: Time for a rethink?. (There’s an overview of all the sections and Chapters in the report here).
Interviewees highlighted a number of challenges which were present prior to the pandemic and have been heightened as a result of it. On the whole, they viewed them through the lens of sustainability, often referring to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework. This was seen as an important hook within global engagement strategies, aligning well with research and practice and offering a good way to encourage diverse, discipline-based engagement.
Those who believed their institutions were fully committed to the SDGs saw significant benefits – in terms of building a positive reputation among partner networks, particularly in emerging economies, and responding to the interests of students and other stakeholders. However, there were concerns that some institutions may just be paying lip service to the Goals.
Climate action was a specific area highlighted by most interviewees as a factor which would influence (and, for some, play a core role in) future global engagement strategies. It is relevant to research priorities, learning and teaching, outreach and public debate, as well as the institution’s (and its community’s) own behaviours and choices.
Awareness is being raised through organisations such as The Climate Action Network for International Educators (CANIE), which shares resources, training and events to help international education practitioners to take action and drive change within their institutions.
The expectations of students, coupled with institutional commitment to carbon neutrality, will keep this high on the agenda. It will inevitably impact on approaches and priorities when it comes to international travel and other forms of international engagement.
At the UUK International Higher Education Forum plenary on 14 April 2021, Rocky Tuan, Vice-Chancellor and President, Chinese University of Hong Kong, proposed that the most important SDG is Goal 10 – Reduce inequality within and among countries.
The pandemic has highlighted issues around accessibility and equity in international education. These are issues that few internationalisation strategies have explicitly addressed to date.
The move to online delivery has reinforced the digital divide and universities wishing to expand their digital provision will need to consider how they can reduce the inequalities that affect participation and successful outcomes.
Universities should reflect on what inclusion really means in the context of internationalisation. For example, what is the institution’s stance on welcoming refugees? Can mechanisms be developed (e.g. scholarships) in order to diversify the international student body in terms not only of nationality but also of social and economic background?
The 2020 Black Lives Matter protests shone a light on systemic inequalities, challenging universities to address these on a number of levels. Should future global engagement strategies include commitments to racial justice?
As concluded in this Halpin guest blog, there are many ways in which the EDI and internationalisation agendas can fruitfully intersect. Institutions for whom both are important need to challenge themselves to explore that intersection so that – rather than continuing along their separate tracks – they can be developed in tandem and provide mutual reinforcement.
Several interviewees noted how the civic role of universities would be a key part of the response to Covid-19 across the UK’s regions, particularly around the levelling up agenda. Some felt the current situation offers a powerful opportunity to bring together what institutions are doing locally and regionally with what they are doing internationally, demonstrating their common underpinning principles and the mutual benefits (including two-way learning and valuable connections) that can be derived from coordinated civic and global engagement.
Exploring the connections between sustainability, climate action, equality, inclusion, social justice and community engagement can help institutions to develop some shared principles to underpin future strategy and guide mutually supportive developments.
The full Global Strategies report can be downloaded from Global Strategies Report – April 2021.
That page also includes download buttons for the Executive Summary and for an Overview of key questions for HEIs to ask, as leaders develop, review and consult on strategy.