The British Council recently held its annual Going Global conference in Hong Kong, the first time it had held the conference outside of Britain. Inside Higher Ed has several interesting articles describing the conference (Global Comparisons, Evolving Higher Ed Hubs, How Asian are Asian Universities?).
The Chronicle of Higher Education published an interesting interview with Martin Davidson, Chief Executive of the British Council, regarding the importance of holding the conference in Asia. In that interview, Davidson made several related points that I think deserve emphasis and comment.
The first had to do with moving the meeting outside of Britain:
...if we're really taking about internationalizing higher education, then we need to begin to move internationally.
He also spoke about reasons for globalizing higher education, and posed the critical questions:
...there are lots and lots of countries who are pumping significant sums of money into developing their own higher-education systems, and if we don't get our higher-education system engaged with the rest of the world, it will slowly begin to decline in terms of its excellence.
So international higher education isn't just about attracting students to study in your universities any longer, which in many ways, I think, was how we perceived it for a long time. But, actually, how do you engage your university? How do you internationalize your university, in order to be able to draw upon the very best talent around the world, in order to be able to provide opportunity for your students which might not otherwise be available, and in order to continue to develop a truly excellent institution?
And finally, he spoke about a very real danger that describes the way in which many of our institutions currently really think about globalization:
The danger for us is that our institutions will fall back on the recruitment of overseas students as a means of plugging a funding gap, rather than seeing the opportunities for a wider international engagement; that we will drop back into an old way, just as the rest of the world is moving into a different way of thinking.
"Engagment" with the rest of the world surely is the next step in globalization of higher education, but in what ways? Davidson argues that physically going to Asia was important for this meeting and higher education generally as part of its engagement. Does he mean that bringing students to the UK is no longer sufficient, and that UK institutions must begin to go to students elsewhere? I have argued previously in this blog that going to their home countries to educate students may in some cases be critical if we hope to continue educating the "very best talent around the world" - some of whom may not want to, or be able to, come to the UK or US for their education. And surely, if one does go internationally to provide education, one should not do so just to make money, but rather as a component of a larger engagement that involves other aspects of the university such as research, corporate engagement, alumni outreach, etc. (Some of my earlier thoughts can be found in Globalization and Internationalization, and other linked posts)
It is always difficult for organizations that have been winners under one set of rules to adapt to changes in the rules fast enough to continue to be winners. Higher education in the US and UK are widely regarded as among the winners under the old, pre-globalization rules. The rules are changed now: other countries are rapidly building high quality educational infrastructure; research and innovation are increasing rapidly around the world; economies, especially in Asia, are growing much faster than in the US or Europe, thus providing increased opportunity for graduates; a global economy requires that graduates have new skills for success; etc. Learning to play effectively in the new game will require lots of thought, experimentation, and a willingness to break from old (formerly) winning patterns and approaches.