IV. Conference Proceedings
Mobility in Higher Education:
A New Vision, Pressures and Opportunities for Enhanced Programs
The plenary session Mobility in Higher Education: A New Vision, Pressures, and Opportunities for Enhanced Programs offered an opportunity to acknowledge the central and complex role that mobility plays in international education. Vinitha Gengatharan, Chair of the plenary and Executive Director of York International, framed the discussion by addressing the impact that COVID-19 has had on internationalization. She noted that the sudden halt to mobility due to the global pandemic has created opportunities to accelerate internationalization at home, an area that has not had as much traction as other areas of global engagement. Furthermore, this pause has enabled universities to re-consider new frameworks to realize internationalization ambitions, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the core to create a better future for all. Addressing issues of ethics, inclusivity, and sustainability in internationalization would require careful thought to the purposes and modalities of future mobility programs.
Hans de Wit, Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Fellow at Boston College, United States started the discussion by acknowledging the complexities of mobility in higher education. In order to incorporate equity, ethics, and sustainability, practitioners and leaders will need to examine the various modalities of physical mobility programs while addressing the needs of the different stakeholders involved, including students, faculty, researchers and institutions. While acknowledging that international education is nearly impossible without mobility and the ability to connect with other cultures and experiences, he argued that focusing exclusively on physical mobility is an elitist form of internationalization as physical, ideological, and financial barriers prevent access and sustainability. In the context of COVID-19, he highlighted that virtual communication presents an alternative to mobility that highlights the interconnectedness between different actors rather than physical movement for interaction. Although he noted that the shift to virtual is not a traditional form of teaching for universities, it can serve as a more collaborative avenue to enhance opportunities for intercultural and innovative production of knowledge. Some examples included the opportunity to hold virtual conferences and research, whereby learning and collaborating across borders is made possible without meeting physically. De Witt also considered solutions for more environmentally sustainable physical mobility programs in higher education such as encouraging greener modes of transportation, and extended periods of stay rather than short visits. In conclusion, De Wit called for leadership and action to create an inclusive and sustainable future for mobility in higher education.
Francisco Marmolejo, Education Advisor for the Qatar Foundation and Former Global Lead of Tertiary Education at the World Bank, shared a similar view of De Wit’s argument on elitism in higher education and exclusion in physical mobility practices. He proposed that institutions and individuals move beyond the traditional concept of internationalization and instead, recognize mobility of ideas, experiences, and perspectives. To elaborate on this view, Marmolejo referenced student mobility (e.g., physical exchanges) that suffers from a bubble effect, where a group of privileged students enter the same spaces and learn from the same perspectives without interacting or connecting with local communities and cultures. As a result, these exclusionary practices in mobility reflect structural inequalities rooted in neocolonial economic, ideological, political, and institutional interests and have proven unsustainable.
…Marmolejo expressed concern for the notion of “waiting for things to become normal again”, recognizing that mobility programs in the past have regarded students as commodities and called for these perverse incentives to be challenged. – Francisco Marmolejo
He acknowledged the need to address the dysfunctionalities of traditional mobility by developing mechanisms that hold programs accountable in delivering the assumed skills and life-changing experiences marketed to students. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and looking into the future of international mobility in higher education, Marmolejo expressed concern for the notion of “waiting for things to become normal again”, recognizing that mobility programs in the past have regarded students as commodities and called for these perverse incentives to be challenged. In conclusion, Marmolejo advocated for the need to responsibly re-envision mobility programs through technology and to enhance the future of international education, especially in pursuit of equity and inclusion for all.
Lorna Jean Edmonds, former Vice Provost of Global Affairs and Assistant Vice President of International Relations at Ohio University, United States, reinforced the views of the other panelists by suggesting that higher education institutions should be responsible for creating more inclusive mobility programs. She outlined the crucial role of higher education institutions in impacting global knowledge-sharing, accessibility, and engagement. In her intervention, she posited that universities require a shift from an individualistic and competitive standpoint to one which advances inclusive and collaborative frameworks with other institutions and stakeholders. She also alluded to eliminating the traditional notion of borders that typically define internationalization, given that virtual spaces provide opportunities to increase participation and reach wider audiences, especially in a COVID-19 context. In leveraging the various learning opportunities that have emerged for an inclusive approach to mobility, Edmonds maintained that universities must adopt and enact a universal framework to promote inclusion, participation, and diversity of students in higher education globally. Additionally, she noted that social media and online mobilization play a central role in enhancing higher education models, and considered its benefits to generate compassionate social justice, accessible learning, wellbeing, cooperation, and governance of the world within the universal sustainability landscape.
Edmonds’ concluding remarks noted that individuals in higher education institutions are drivers of change and leaders in knowledge production that form and inform student experiences and government actions. She urged academics and researchers to become global influencers by tackling visible and invisible pandemics and barriers across communities (i.e., racial injustices, COVID-19, climate change), collectively working with students, and other institutions to create a pathway towards sustainability that makes mobility in higher education a boundless and borderless possibility for all.
This session urged academics and researchers to become global influencers by tackling visible and invisible pandemics and barriers across communities (i.e., racial injustices, COVID-19, climate change), collectively working with students, and other institutions to create a pathway towards sustainability that makes mobility in higher education a boundless and borderless possibility for all.
Discussion and Q&A
The question period which followed the interventions invited the panelists to elaborate on further solutions and pathways for higher education institutions to address equity and inclusion. In response, the presenters agreed that universities need to be more transparent and accountable to minimize the gaps and barriers in higher education. Additionally, more interdisciplinary and participatory conversations are necessary to increase the development and progress across non-western educational settings. They strongly urged that universities break away from their traditional ways of thinking and teaching and instead take collective action to create an adaptable system for all.
This plenary highlighted the complexities, needs and potential solutions to pivot mobility and internationalization in higher education towards inclusion and sustainability. As articulated, there are profound benefits to learning and collaborating across borders. However, it is equally important to involve and consider local communities in internationalization processes. As Marmolejo stated: “We shouldn’t forget that at the end of the day we are preparing people. It is not about making international the goal, as international only makes sense if it is connected to local communities.” In addition, the panelists also spoke to the elitism and exclusion seen in physical mobility programs which undermine its sustainability for the future. Instead, institutions, students, and researchers should welcome, recognize, and encourage equal exchange of ideas, experiences, and perspectives of diverse communities. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the panelists supported virtual learning and online conferences as an alternative approach to intercultural interactions that can be used to uphold and expand environmentally conscious, inclusive, and collaborative practices in line with the SDGs. Many inequalities can persist through the digital delivery of education and while, virtual mobility is not a perfect solution, it is an opportunity that challenges conventional practices and frameworks of internationalization. As such, emphasizing the experience of the mobility participants (or lack thereof) will be key to creating ethical and sustainable internationalization activities.