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Mutual benefit critical for successful cooperation, conference hears

International cooperation in education and research must be developed with mutual benefit and balance in mind to make internationalisation work, the European University Association’s annual conference has heard.

Up to now, internationalisation has developed within the framework of “power imbalances” in different regions, said Ihron Rensburg, vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. Cooperation in education and research has tended to flow in one direction, where the global north has transferred its knowledge, theories, and practices to the south, he said, adding that this unbalanced situation can have unfavourable consequences.

At the conference, Rensburg presented 10 “reflections” on how to achieve more useful internationalisation. He said it is important that different countries and regions share a commitment to scientific integrity and social responsibility. Rensburg cited the Square Kilometre Array and Cern for the effective cooperation that characterises these projects. Such initiatives should serve as a model for future activities, Rensburg said.

Rensburg’s comments were picked up by Androulla Vassilliou, the European commissioner for education, who spoke at the conference on 11 April. 

“Universities need broader strategies that go beyond mobility and cover many other types of academic cooperation such as joint degrees, support for capacity building, joint research projects, distance learning programmes,” Vassilliou said. “The concept of ‘internationalisation at home’ is also key to ensure that the majority of students, who are not in a position to study abroad, can nevertheless enjoy the benefits associated with international exposure.”

She described European initiatives that aim to improve the EU’s performance in these different aspects of internationalisation. The Erasmus-for-all programme starting in 2014, for example, will be open to students and staff from outside the EU for the first time, Vassilliou said.

In other news from the EUA, the association’s members elected three members to its board during its general assembly, held on 11 April in advance of the annual conference. The board consists of nine current or former university rectors, with each member serving for four years.

Gülay Doğu Barbarosoğlu, who is rector of Bogazici University in Turkey, and Stefano Paleari, rector of the University of Bergamo in Italy, are new board members. They are replacing outgoing members Jean-Pierre Finance from France and Giuseppe Silvestri from Italy, who both served on the board since 2009. David Drewry, former vice-chancellor of the University of Hull in the United Kingdom, was re-elected to the board.

The conference is being held 11-12 April at the University of Ghent in Belgium, under the theme of global engagement.