'Going Global 2016' education conference with the theme of 'Building Nations and Connecting Cultures: Education policy, economic development and engagement' took place in Cape Town on May 3-5. It drew 1,000 participants from across the world and among them 500 were ministers, top civil servants, vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors. This very arrangement highlights the importance of the conference. '
'Going Global' has been in place for 12 years. It is an annual conference offering an open forum for global leaders of tertiary education to discuss issues facing the international education community. Since its inception in 2004, the conference has grown from a bi-annual event in the UK to an annual event alternating between the UK and a major international city. In the early years, the focus was on transnational education, branch campuses, joint programmes and student mobility. Then in 2012, it included international relations, the role of higher education in it and social identity. Two years ago, 'Going Global' was in Miami to develop a bridge between Latin America and North America in terms of access and quality.
This year's conference in Cape Town revolved round the three sub-themes along with some other significant points. Education policy was the first which includes local priorities, national systems and global drivers. For policy-makers one of the key challenges was to open up education system to increase access and competition without undermining the national system. Nigeria opened its post-school system to private providers, and now private universities are among the best while South Africa was cautious about opening up opportunities for private universities and focused on protecting and growing the public system. But private universities don't fund the most expensive courses. When the public university system is protected, there is cross-subsidisation from cheaper courses to more expensive ones, such as medical schools.
Economic development was the second sub-theme. It included skills, enterprise, research and innovation. One was shifting perceptions about Africa as a continent of opportunity rather than a begging bowl. Now Africa has the fastest growing economy and is the most quickly urbanising continent and has the largest growth of the middle class. But a lot of people around the world are not well-aware of this fact. It is important to shift a widespread view that African universities are there to provide employable graduates for economic development. 'Going Global' with its high proportion of ministers attending, is a good vehicle for good debate. People representing national higher education systems can think about the role of different kinds of universities. Countries like India are really grappling with how to expand and develop a large-scale education system and new universities.
The third sub-theme known as engagement embraced issues such as democracy, social justice and international relations, and was related to the overall theme of universities and nation building. Now the debate was much more about the role of students, their relationship with the wider world, outsourcing and so on. While this might not be of great interest to all participants from outside the region, the student fees debate is global. Another feedback from 'Going Global', which is absolutely flagship activity in higher education, is to the university sector in the UK. Informing universities about the ideas and debates and research that come out of 'Going Global' has, for instance, shifted perceptions that China and India are the only places to recruit or look to partnerships.
The conference theme was actually based on ethics of educational research and evaluation, ethics, care and quality in funding of university teacher development and excellence awards, ethics, care and quality in formal staff development programmes. The conference theme was intended to re-focus the practice of educational development, to encourage critical thinking on the roles and responsibilities of educational developers, and to offer opportunities for researchers and theorists to explore the complex relationships between ethics, care and quality enhancement.
'Going Global 2016' asked if international education is destined to be dominated by competitive drivers for economic growth and international standing, by student fees, skilled graduates and research funding or whether it can also be informed by building partnerships to address collective concerns. What does all these mean for colleges, universities and national education systems, their missions, strategies and operating models? What risks and opportunities do these new trends present for students, staff and the communities with which they engage? 'Going Global 2016' really began with a 'constructive but feisty' steering meeting in Cape Town about what the focus could be. The theme of 'Building Nations and Connecting Cultures' came out of a rich discussion on local versus international priorities. These are issues of interest to universities and governments around the world, and are of great pertinence to the region.
This year's conference was different in terms of quality of papers and panels which were much higher than those in the previous years. It means 'Going Global' is getting a much more serious, thoughtful conference. High-quality papers were submitted from all over the world including the African continent. The papers reflected how higher education can play a role in positive social and economic change. It is known that economically higher education gives rise to a skilled workforce, and research universities contribute to innovation and knowledge economies. They also focused on social contribution to nation-building - the creation of more informed citizens, more tolerant societies, more participative communities and then the better living conditions.
'Going Global 2016' was inaugurated by South Africa's Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande. A three-member team from Bangladesh, led by Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid ,attended the conference. Professor Abdul Mannan, Chairman of the UGC, accompanied the Minister while Bangladesh Ambassador to South Africa Shabbir Ahmed Chaudhury joined the team from Pretoria. In his inaugural speech, Dr Nzimande emphasised the need for cooperation among developed and developing countries in the field of education for eliminating poverty and illiteracy and to make the world more peaceful place to live in which is the most-talked-about topic today.
The writer works in BRAC Education Programme as a specialist.