ACA Internationalisation Conference: looking beyond the nation state

5195f6a36165ashutterstock_62213497small_634When developing strategies about internationalisation of academic education and research, you cannot ignore current societal challenges. These challenges can be a first step for universities in looking beyond the interests of the nation state they’re in, and becoming ‘urban knowledge nodes’ that produce truly global citizens, is one of the conclusions of the ACA Annual Conference, held June 15 in Brussels.

The world is changing, which is resulting in challenges as well as opportunities for modern society. The ever increasing urbanization for example leads to a lot of different issues, but at the same time these large cities are more and more becoming universal knowledge hubs, that can share knowledge with each other on comparable trends like the effects of climate change and pollution, social inequality and superdiversity. Because of these similarities, cities could perform as an important linking-pin in a global knowledge system.

A barrier for doing this however, are the nation state and national interests. Where cities are united worldwide in their destination, nation states are united on their history. National governments too often aim at conservation of current systems and values. Professor Eric Corijn (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) suggests universities should let the urban societal challenges inspire the academic agenda in a more fundamental way and look beyond academic rankings, but on the other hand they should also realize that a knowledge society is something else than profitability in a knowledge economy. The solution according to Corijn? ‘Rethinking the universities as ‘postnational urban knowledge nodes’’.

Hans de Wit (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) reviews 50 years of internationalization and mentions a gap between the policy perception in governmental and institutional strategies, and the results of these strategies: where policy plans officially aim at global citizenship, cooperation and international interests, often the reality is an emphasis on employability, competition and national, regional and institutional interests.

He suggests the core of internationalization strategies of governments as well as institutions should be creating an academic system capable of producing global citizens and professionals, addressing global issues, developing socially inclusive societies and with respect to other cultures.

In this process, it is crucial to truly take into account the goals of international partners, because they differ among the different continents, says Eva Egron-Polak (International Association of Universities). She points at IAU research showing for example that where in Europe and North America student outgoing mobility has top priority, Asia, Africa and Middle East institutions consider international research collaboration as more important. When European universities engage in dialogue with universities with different interests in different cultures, and adjust the strategy for cooperation, this accordingly may have a lasting positive impact for all participants, she concludes.

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