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APAIE returns with look ahead to a sustainable future

The 2023 Asia-Pacific Association for International Education conference returned after a three-year hiatus, hosting some 2,700 participants from 67 countries and regions, in Bangkok, Thailand.
March 22 2023
3 Min Read

The Asia-Pacific Association for International Education conference returned after a three-year hiatus, hosting some 2,700 participants from 67 countries and regions, in Bangkok, Thailand.

“We are all here today because we believe in inclusive and sustainable growth,” said Banchong Mahaisavariya, president of Mahidol University, as he addressed APAIE 2023 delegates during the opening plenary.

To achieve such growth, international education is a key driver, said Mahaisavariya, as he highlighted “a sense of care and sense of ownership for peace, prosperity and sustainability of our international education community”.

The conference’s theme Towards a sustainable future for international education in the Asia Pacific inspired various interpretations and perspectives over the five-day event.

For Mahaisavariyah, sustainability means building a community that is “people-centric” and one which “leaves no one behind and looks to the future”.

“For some of us, a personal and professional sustainability has necessarily been the primary focus in recent years as we’ve faced unprecedented challenges as a global, international education community, as well as in our own lives and institutions,” said Sarah Todd, APAIE president and vice president, global, Griffith University.

Todd highlighted the importance of using the conference to share best practices and explore ways to ensure environmental sustainability remains a key priority, as well as to discuss avenues to contribute to the UN SDGs.

“Part of international engagement is about persuading”

Such efforts pertain to sustainable communities, inclusive and equitable societies, access to quality education, decent jobs and economic growth, as well as mitigating environmental impact and partnering for impact, said Todd.

APAIE itself signed the CANIE accord – designed to strengthen and accelerate the sector’s commitment to climate action – in late 2022.

A reoccurring theme throughout the conference was how to create and maintain sustainable partnerships, including a debate on if institutions need already established and aligned values in order to succeed together.

For, Lavern Samuels, president, IEASA, and director of international education and partnerships, Durban University of Technology, it is “certainly easier” if there are shared values but it is not a “deal-breaker”.

“Part of international engagement is about persuading, changing and transforming through our engagement so having a partner who’s open to deepening their sustainability footprint I think would be enough for us to engage with them and there’s a lot we can do,” Samuels said.

Speakers on a global dialogue panel highlighted the importance of considering diversity across regions and how this can impact partnerships, with LaNitra Berger, president and chair of the board of directors at NAFSA, noting that there are many different views on the spectrum of environmental sustainability in the US.

“You have institutions in different regions of the country where people are heavily invested in environmental sustainability and building partnerships in other places where sustainability is a priority,” said Berger.

“And then you have other regions where maybe they don’t even believe that climate change is a thing and so there’s just much less of a policy framework to support institutions that are interested in the environment.”

“I think we also need to be careful that we don’t want to only be partnering with institutions like ourselves, that we really should be partnering for the different perspectives and the different needs that they bring,” said Todd.

Jennifer Bahen, counsellor for education and research at the Australian Embassy in Vietnam, would like to see a future supported by greater alignment and connectivity of systems.

“Our future is something that we will create a partnership rather than a future that we want to create alone,” she said.

The resilience of international students and the wider sector post-pandemic was discussed, along with to what extent it is an institution’s responsibility to manage expectations and ensure international students have a deep cultural awareness of their host country.

Discomfort is part of an international experience, however student well-being should never be compromised, the audience heard from Samuels.

“I believe that international education should not be a finishing school for elites,” Berger continued.

“It should be a tool for social change. Part of that social change comes from leaving what’s familiar and what’s comfortable.”

“It’s about balance,” added Todd, who shared personal anecdotes of her own international education experience as a student in Japan, where she said little accommodations were made for her culturally, resulting in a “transformative” experience.

The 2024 APAIE conference will take place in Perth, Australia.

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