THE British Council’s annual
international education conference, Going Global, which was held in
Miami recently, was the 10th edition since its launch in 2004.
Over the decade, the conference was held
in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. This year is the first time the
event is held across the Atlantic Ocean. Recognised as a meeting of
leaders of international education from around the globe, it attracted
more than 1,000 participants this year. The three-day event focused on
the theme: Inclusion, Innovation and Impact.
While innovation has been a common topic
in many conferences, it is less so for issues relating to inclusion and
impact. Still there are already those who are quick to coin the term
“inclusive innovation”, adding more complexity to what innovation is all
I was involved in the panel discussion,
Is There Room for Mutuality? The role of higher education in diplomacy
seemed to focus on inclusion and impact. It is a challenging one because
“mutuality” is not a catchphrase in the education sector which is now
increasingly shaped by for-profit commercial interest. Coupled with the
decline in public spending and austerity drives, they add pressure on
higher education with little room for “mutuality” to be seriously
considered. Instead, mergers and remodelling seem to be the order of the
day even though it may mean changing horses midstream, as the case in
Malaysia of late. After all, education today is more a function of
economics, and no longer about equitable access, what more,
democratisation of knowledge.
In similar ways, diplomacy falls by the wayside when it comes to inclusiveness.
Diplomacy couched in the language of
“soft power” is making the situation worse when it comes to higher
education although universities and institutions of higher learning are
most suitable for inclusive talent development.
Unfortunately this is not the case in
the global scene — where more often than not — education is based on an
unequal partnership equation. For example, pushed by demographic shifts
in many developed countries, “mutuality” tends to be biased towards
national interest with great impact on brain drain.
Nations aspiring to be on a par with
others — but unable to retain a pool of talented people — cannot hope
for “mutuality” since brain power equity must be foremost for this to
Under these circumstances,
internationalisation of education becomes a farce when stakeholders and
governments expect institutions to make an impact on national growth
programmes and contribute to societal change through soft power agendas.
Europe, perhaps, knows this better than
any region, given the experience of the Berlin Conference of 1884 —
which celebrates its 130 anniversary this year — where the European
counterparts scrambled to carve out Africa according to their colonial
ambitions to the point of abusing diplomacy.
The African continent was naively
portrayed as a blank canvas on which the hegemonic agendas were brazenly
executed. The devastating impact lasted until today — not least on
education generally. Yet there seems to another round of such
“diplomacy” taking place, this time involving ambitious Asian countries
A good way to summarise the current
mindset is by quoting John Bolton, the former US Ambassador to the
United Nations: “Diplomacy is not an end (in) itself if it does not
advance US interests.” To date, international higher education is not
too far off from this notion, with limited space for “mutuality”, if at
As identified by one enlightened
international expert, “mutuality” is difficult to come about if the
current circumstances including the trend to commercialise higher
education focus on graduate and doctoral education and prevailing
acceptance of rankings remain, leading to the fundamental question of
who controls education?
All these can be powerful barriers to
the idea of “mutuality” in particular, given the bitter experiences of
the so-called international diplomacy that resonates until today.
In this context, the International
Association of Universities 4th Global Survey on Internationalisation of
Higher Education: What is Internationalisation and can it be measured?
is timely in trying to create an improved framework whereby “mutuality”
can proceed naturally by restoring the ethos of education to level the
playing field internationally.
Interestingly enough, the audience at
the conference felt that internationalisation is not a
once-size-fits-all effort, and it is about building trust and innovation
which augur well for “mutuality”.