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Conference panel imagines a bigger tent for international education

What better place to explore the role of industry associations than an industry conference convened by an association? That was the task of a distinguished panel assembled for the 5th annual conference of the British Columbia Council for International Education (BCCIE). BCCIE is a long-standing regional association in British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province and home to a significant share of Canada’s international student population.

Now a crown corporation of the provincial government, it aims to advance the international interests of British Columbia’s K-12 schools, post-secondary institutions, and language schools. This year’s BCCIE Summer Seminar conference was held 22-25 June in Vancouver, and attended by more than 300 delegates.

Dr Randall Martin, the executive director of BCCIE, set the tone for the conference and for the plenary panel in his preamble:

“We do not own internationalisation and neither do we own international education. It cannot be the sole domain of the well-travelled and the academy to bask in its glow. It is our responsibility as the front line and the boots on the ground, as practitioners and educators, to refine this field and to engage our world with our communities.”

The panel, entitled Global Conversations: The Role and Future of International Education Organisations and moderated by Dr Martin, picked up on this theme in its discussions around the priorities, challenges, and impacts of major industry associations and networks. The panelists represented “some of the largest and most influential international education organisations in the world” and included:

  • Fanta Aw, President and Chair of the Board of Directors, NAFSA, USA;
  • Markus Badde, CEO, ICEF GmbH, Germany;
  • Gordon Cheung, Past President, Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE), Hong Kong;
  • Hans-Georg van Liempd, President, European Association for International Education (EAIE), The Netherlands;
  • John Hudzik, Professor and Former Vice-President of Global Engagement, Michigan State University (MSU); Former President, NAFSA, USA;
  • Jennifer Humphries, Vice President, Membership, Public Policy and Communications, Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), Canada.


From left to right: Dr Randall Martin, Fanta Aw, Markus Badde, Gordon Cheung, John Hudzik, Jennifer Humphries, and Hans-Georg van Liempd.

“Our sector is in a period of dramatic transformation,” said Dr Martin in his opening remarks. “From our early role of facilitating student mobility, global understanding, and hands-across-the-water diplomacy, the sector now operates at a global scale and with a global impact. Contexts are changing and our associations can be leading the charge and directing the conversation.”

With that, Dr Martin turned to the panelists with his opening question, “What is the current number one priority for your organisation? What do you believe should be the number one concern or priority for our sector?”

Much of the ensuing discussion focused on these key questions, and a couple of important themes emerged in the panelists’ responses.

“The challenge is advocacy,” said EAIE’s Mr van Liempd. “We [normally] bring together the same kind of people – the people in our sector. But most probably we agree amongst each other. We should bring together more people from government and from the business sector.”

Ms Aw agreed, citing advocacy as one of NAFSA’s important priorities as well, particularly with respect to key policy areas such as immigration. Many organisations in the sector share a common goal, she added, “to ensure that our community of practice is responsive to changing times, and that we continue to build a dynamic community of practice.”

Ms Aw called as well for a greater focus on the outcomes of international education, noting that NAFSA’s recently adopted strategic plan very much reflected this orientation towards “ends, not means.” She added that the NAFSA plan centres around such broad questions as the relationship between international education and international development, or of international education and peace building. Ms Aw argued that associations need to develop well-considered positions on such strategic question and then to stand firm: “That is where the role of an association can become much more pronounced and become much more relevant.”

Partnerships and links across sectors and organisations are crucial, added ICEF’s Mr Badde, reflecting the panel’s emphasis on the need to engage a broader range of stakeholder groups and individuals. “We have many more technologies available to us today, particularly those that facilitate online networking and communications,” he said. “But if anything, we find that direct contact between colleagues and partners is the critical ingredient in building strong international links.”

A number of the panelists noted specific groups as important targets for additional outreach and engagement, ranging from youth to university executives to faculty. CBIE’s Ms Humphries said, “I would like to see our organisations working more closely in different areas. One that pops to mind is youth disengagement. We think that we engage with many students and we do, but what about the youth that aren’t participating? How can we draw them in to participate in our common future?”

It was also pointed out, for example, that the recently released International Association of Universities (IAU) global survey found that both university leaders and faculty have a profound impact on internationalisation:

“46% of the respondents see the head of the institution as the most important internal driver of internationalisation and 28% see the international office or the person responsible for internationalisation in that role. Faculty members are ranked in third place.”

“One of the major changes is that we have new actors,” said Ms Aw. “Or those that are not new but that are playing a more active role (like business, for example) and they challenge us to rethink the paradigm. We tend to talk to ourselves. And we tend to think that is how we get things done. But when it comes to senior leaders at universities or faculty, we have to understand they speak a different language. And we have to learn it.”

APAIE’s Mr Cheung took this point further in making a case for enabling a larger field of institutions to internationalise more comprehensively: “One of the major tasks for the associations is that even within individual countries there are large variations at the institution level. We should also try to facilitate those institutions not only at the top notch, the top level, but for those at the second tier or even third tier. When it comes to China, for example, everybody [thinks about] Tsinghua and Fudan, but there are thousands of universities there. How can we facilitate those institutions and provide an international experience for their students?”

Industry networks

Beyond that question of bringing international education more into the mainstream, and engaging a broader field of stakeholders and students, the panel felt that there was great value – and considerable opportunity – for greater cooperation among industry associations. Some noted that providing for the professional development and advancement of the membership remained a key role for industry associations, and that there remains great value in creating a forum for learning and exchange via industry events and conferences.

“I regularly attend most of these conferences,” added Mr Hudzik. “And what I observe going on, almost universally, is to me the most important thing: the opportunity to learn from others. When we sit on our campuses, we start talking to one another. And if we only talk to one another, before long the same topics keep recycling and we stop learning. These conferences and these associations provide a venue for the continuous process of learning.”

It was also pointed out that the growing engagement within and around the sector – as evidenced by booming conference attendance as well as the growth of international education in recent decades – has also contributed to a greater interdependency among industry groups.

This has led in recent years to more concrete attempts to formalise cooperation among industry associations, the most high-profile example of which may be the years-long process of trying to establish The Network of International Education Associations. Meant to serve as an umbrella group (and as a kind of association of associations), The Network is not terribly active today, due in part, it has been suggested, to competing goals of prospective members as well as by the lack of a clear focus or action plan. “Another effect of greater interdependency,” said Mr van Liempd, “is a tension between competition and cooperation.”

The efforts to establish The Network did, however, help contribute to a first-ever Global Dialogue among 24 international education organisations that was held in South Africa in January 2014. The event, reports University World News, “Was the first time that a formal, globally inclusive dialogue has been held with the express purpose of investigating whether and how higher education internationalisation might be made more globally equitable, value-driven and collaborative and how practitioners might go about shaping its future agenda and harmonising their efforts.”

The Global Dialogue conference represents an important step to reconciling some of the challenges of greater cooperation among industry groups large and small. Its immediate result was a joint declaration issued by the participating associations. But its larger effect may be to promote real concrete action around shared priorities and to provide for an ongoing discussion around the outcomes of internationalisation for individuals and society as a whole. After all, it is the transformative aspect of education – its capacity to drive positive change in the individual, the community, society, and the world – that makes the field of international education so compelling.

Echoing the promise of events such as Global Dialogue, Dr Martin said of the BCCIE panel discussion, “This is not a one-off discussion but an ongoing conversation that we must carry forward.”

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