A rallying call for openness at IHEF17

As you would expect from the title, this year’s Universities UK’s International Higher Education Forum was an international affair

Higher education experts from Cuba, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and China joined voices from the UK to examine international HE in all its forms.

Although plenary sessions examined challenges facing universities from the likes of Brexit and growing nationalism, the day maintained an optimistic tone with calls to action rather than introspection.

Universities have “marvellous capacities for having their own foreign policies,” stated Dr Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the US-based Institute of International Education. In the context of US history, Goodman continued: “Over the years, universities have found neat ways to mitigate some of the negative effects for science from isolationist and nationalistic tendencies.”

Meanwhile several speakers noted the role of science in building diplomatic relations. Professor Robin Grimes, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office cited examples including Ebola and the Fukushima nuclear disaster which resulted in international scientific collaboration.

Rolf Tarrach, President of the European University Association, called for universities and researchers to up their game: “We have to fight against Trumpian Twitter by having a much closer relationship with society, explaining how we do science… we should do better science and better publishing to defend our way of getting new knowledge.”

One of the most memorable moments of the day was an impassioned speech delivered by Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University, one of the founders of the cross-sector #WeAreInternational campaign. The campaign, which aims to welcome international students and staff and highlight their unique contribution to universities, is supported by over 130 universities in the UK.

Sir Keith gave an emotional appeal for universities to come together to demonstrate the gains universities and society make from diversity and difference.

His speech was echoed by Abdi-Aziz Suleiman, former president of Sheffield Students’ Union and international student from Somalia who spoke of the need to show the value of international education to the people who “feel left behind”.

The conversations will continue at University UK International’s timely conference: Enhancing the international student experience: effective strategies for 2017 and beyond at Woburn House in London on June 15.

The vote to leave the European Union, debate around student migration and a turbulent political climate around the world has added an air of uncertainty and anxiety for international students studying, or considering studying, in the UK. 

It is more important than ever for UK universities to deliver a first-rate international student experience, and to reassure current and potential international students to the UK.

The event will consider the international student experience from all angles: from how to reassure current and prospective students of the safety and inclusivity of UK campuses to ways to ensure equitability of experience in overseas campuses, and from the importance of convincing local communities of the importance of international students to supporting their mental wellbeing.

Booking is now open via universitiesuk.ac.uk/events 

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