Posted on 8 Oct 2020 at 17:40 by Vicky Lewis
I very much enjoyed The PIE Live virtual summit this week. Although it was a shame not to be able to meet colleagues face-to-face, the platform gave as close to a ‘normal’ conference experience as is possible in a virtual format. I can certainly see this becoming a much more frequently adopted approach to conferences than all the flying around the world we used to do. Which brings me to my two highlights of the conference: the Sustainability Panel and the Global Engagement Index Q&A huddle.
The overwhelming – and heartening – feeling I had coming away from this session was that the next generation will have the motivation and skills to treat the planet better than we have, and that increasing numbers of universities are building sustainability considerations into their strategies and actions. Ailsa Lamont of CANIE spoke about riding the wave of this enhanced commitment and surfacing all the good practice that is going on around the world.
We heard from Brett Berquist about the University of Auckland’s use of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to help determine institutional priorities as they develop their new strategic plan. One of the secrets to their success (Auckland came top in the THE Impact Rankings 2020) is the winning combination of grassroots support and top-down focus.
Brad Dorahy of CISAustralia told attendees about the Green Book, which is aimed at outwardly mobile students and contains a wealth of tips and resources for sustainable learning abroad. It seeks to help them reduce their carbon footprint, support local environmental initiatives in their host country, and continue to make a positive impact when they get home.
Particularly inspiring were the stories told by John Hardy of Green School in Bali, Indonesia. The school educates for sustainability, which infuses every aspect of students’ learning and wider experience (and that of the school's extended community, including parents). Graduates of the school have a clear sense of purpose, know exactly what they want to change in the world and how to go about it. TED talks by some of the students have triggered offers of admission from Ivy League universities.
A theme running through this session was that today’s students want universities to embrace sustainability wholeheartedly, both within curricula and in institutional decision-making and operations. There are grounds for hope that their voices will lead us all in a better direction.
Environmental impact and sustainable development are just two of the 30 measures included within the new Education Insight Global Engagement Index, launched via a fascinating Q&A session with its creators, Janet Ilieva and Enzo Raimo.
This is an invaluable tool which came into being to address a frustration that the international dimension of UK universities is so often measured simply in terms of incoming student enrolments and associated fee income. It seeks to move the conversation on to reflect the wealth of different elements contributing to an institution’s global engagement. As Janet put it: ‘it’s an opportunity to repurpose the rhetoric around international higher education’.
The Global Engagement Index (GEI) (which has been profiled in depth in PIE News and University World News) takes a holistic view by bringing together a range of indicators (based on existing data) across the broad themes of student engagement and institutional infrastructure. In the first category, these include not only the geographical diversity of international students, but also transnational education, student success, study abroad and internationalisation at home (including international themes within curricula). The institutional angle looks at the internationalism of the staff base, environmental impact, sustainable development and engagement with ODA countries, and international research engagement. Stars (up to five) are awarded to institutions against each indicator and sub-indicator.
The GEI has the potential to be a powerful tool to support UK universities in the development of best practice. It can be used internally for benchmarking purposes and to see where the institution is doing well or less well. It can also help to initiate conversations with senior managers and governors which move away from the ‘how many international students have we recruited this year?’ variety and towards a broader and more nuanced perspective on internationalisation.
Individual HEIs can choose which dimensions are most important to them (tailoring these to their own mission, priorities and stage of development), embed these in their institutional strategies and know that they have a way of measuring progress and demonstrating excellence in those areas of global engagement which matter most in their specific context.
Although described as ‘work in progress’ (on which feedback is welcomed), the GEI already provides insights into areas where the UK sector performs well, which have not previously been adequately highlighted. For example, the fact that international student progression rates are exceptionally high; and the capacity-building work that UK universities do through their TNE provision.
I recall having conversations with colleagues back in the mid-2000s about the lack of a holistic benchmarking tool for internationalisation. It is going to make a huge difference to the sector that we now have one at our disposal. I am hopeful that it will also help to reframe the discourse around global engagement.
Thanks go to the team at The PIE for organising such a professional event with a wide range of absorbing sessions, including these two thoroughly uplifting ones.