At the very highest levels, across the arts and sciences, and down the generations higher education institutions stand up for cultural exchange, writes Sir Ciaran Devane, chief executive of the British Council.
Going Global is a flagship event for a flagship sector, a conference for leaders in international education to debate the future of further and higher education.
Universities speak for their nations in a way that no other institutions can – at the very highest levels, across the arts and sciences, and down the generations.
At this year’s event, there were 900 education leaders – ministers, rectors, vice chancellors and decision makers – from 77 countries, representing more than 350 institutions.
The conference took place in the wake of some momentous global events. Closest to home has been the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union (EU).
From a global perspective, the UK’s decision to leave the EU looks like just one symptom of a wider malaise. In many parts of the world there is a new fear of openness and otherness, the causes of which are both material (worries about migration and loss of jobs, for example); and cultural (a fearfulness that national cultures may be under threat).
If we want to challenge the shutting down of exchange and possibility that those fears imply, then strengthening cultural ties is vitally important.
Universities and colleges are the global connectors among the world’s fast-evolving knowledge economies and cities are the beating hearts of innovation
It is worth reminding ourselves that Europe is the home of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution (both, of course, long pre-dating the European Union). It has been, and is, a place of human advancement, of global engagement, and of technological progress. The United Kingdom’s connection to European culture did not begin – and will not end – with our membership of the EU.
In this new era, Europeans need to discover – or rediscover – a hard currency we can all agree on (I am not talking about the Euro!). Perhaps that currency is culture, in its broadest sense. Something that does not stop at borders, and never has.
The British Council has been preoccupied with unravelling all the implications for higher education and research, and working with European country partners to continue our close scholarly collaborations.
Further afield there have been surprise election results, student protests and fierce debates over issues such as decolonising the curriculum and freedom of speech.
Something that has concerned the British Council and many of its partners has been the plight of Syrian refugees and other mobile populations deprived of the opportunity of higher education.
It is the business of tertiary education and research to grapple with these big global problems as well as to address issues that preoccupy people and environments much closer to home.
Universities are in and of the world, but they are also in and of their cities – the theme of this year’s Going Global.
It was particularly pleasing to hold Going Global in London this year – a global city that is enriched by its universities and tertiary education colleges. It is appropriate too that it is being held in the nation’s capital given the UK’s focus on being ‘Global Britain’.
The UK’s universities are not only among the best in the world and a source of great pride, but proof that ‘Global Britain’ is already a reality.
Higher education institutions have been internationally connected for hundreds of years: scholarship is a collaborative endeavour.
Without such connections, universities would not be much more than knowledge-museums, cut off from ideas, innovation and the encounters that generate new thinking. And new thinking is what we need.
We live in an era characterised by both globalisation and urbanisation with more than half of the world’s people living in cities and towns.
Universities and colleges are the global connectors among the world’s fast-evolving knowledge economies and cities are the beating hearts of innovation.
Cities are places where innovation happens – due to the proximity, density and diversity of people and thought – and universities that can capitalise on this energy and excitement, thrive in turn.
The agenda for Going Global 2017 focused on the opportunities and potential that the dynamic relationship between cities and universities can generate, as well as some of the broader issues and challenges the sector faces internationally. These include:
Where people live, what powers economies, and how information travels between people institutions and places;
The nature and location of innovation; how to maintain education in conflict areas; and the role of education in maintaining links when connecting structures (for example, the European Union) are removed;
The city as a place of sanctuary for people who are displaced in an age of movement and migration;
The age-old creative tension between Town and Gown;
Internationalism versus isolationism.
Going Global generates debate which is more relevant – and more necessary – than ever. It offers a full-spectrum exploration of the role of the university in connecting human needs with future realities – both local and global.
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