Recently in Bangkok the International Association of Universities (IAU), the UNESCO-based association of higher education institutions, held its 15th General Conference that takes place every four years. The event brings together its nearly 700 institutional and organizational members from around the world to focus on pressing matters facing global higher education. As an affiliate member, IIE participated in the event with team members represented from both the Bangkok and New York offices.
The focus of the conference was to exchange strategies and practices that demonstrate how HEIs contribute to innovation and sustainability. Offering macro perspectives from leaders in education across the globe, the three-day conference included a platform for HEIs to discuss what they can do to lead and be catalysts for change in a continuously changing global landscape.
Strategic international partnerships are a hot topic in higher education right now. Collectively, we seem to be moving away from an initial philosophy of “let’s sign as many MOUs with foreign institutions as we can,” to an approach that emphasizes careful planning, deliberate action, and attention to quality, depth, and sustainability.
Now that we’re headed down this path, however, the nuances of what we mean by “strategic” are increasingly important. At ACE, we’re having conversations with our members and program participants about this topic on a regular basis—these have helped us begin to unpack the term “strategic” and better understand its manifestations in relation to global engagement.
Over coffee in Havana, a young Cuban professional asked me, “What are your intentions in Cuba? Why are U.S. universities interested in creating partnerships with Cuban universities?” While these questions initially caught me off guard, they helped me reflect on the current realities of U.S.-Cuba partnerships and what the near future might hold for these relationships.
Last week I had the honor of participating at the Qatar Foundation’s WISE Education Leadership Program in Doha, a program that we implement together with the International Association of University Presidents. This program, now in its third year, brings together newly-appointed university presidents, rectors and vice chancellors from developing countries and prepares them to more effectively lead their institutions. This year’s participants came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iraq, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Palestine, Tanzania, Tunisia, and the Ukraine. They all face common challenges: how to build the capacity of their teaching staff, how to expand access to women, how to develop programs that meet the demands of the job market and that support sustainable national development, and how to operate in fiscal austerity. And some are dealing with the aftermath of war or conflict, and the toll it took on their students and staff.