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AIEA urges educators to foster innovation, increase access

Despite budgetary challenges, evolving technology and shifting demographics, higher education institutions have placed innovation and widening access to international experiences at the top of their agendas, according to stakeholders at the Association of International Education Administrators‘s conference held this week in Washington, DC.

Keynote speaker George Siemens addresses attendees at the AIEA 2015 conference opening plenary.

"Many people would say that higher education is in crisis – so how do we anticipate the challenges and welcome them in ways that will be progressive?"

The event also urged educators to consider the impact universities can have on wider issues such as inequality and climate change in a regional and global context.

In an opening address, Mohamed Abdel-Kader, deputy assistant secretary in the US Department of Education’s office of International and Foreign Language Education, called global education “the civil rights issue of our time” and said that it must be made affordable to all.

“The best time to change is when things are already changing. If a system has inertia it’s impossible to change”

During a series of seminars and roundtable discussions, more than 800 attendees discussed how to achieve this goal in light of ongoing sector upheaval.

“One of the reasons why I wanted the theme this year to be Leading Global Learning: Emerging Paradigms is because we all know that higher education is changing,” Jenifer Cushman, AIEA President and Conference Chair, told The PIE News.

“Many people would say that higher education is in crisis – so how do we anticipate the challenges and welcome them in ways that will be progressive?”

Keynote speaker George Siemens, Executive Director of the University of Texas Arlington‘s Learning Innovation & Networked Knowledge Research Lab – known as the ‘Grandfather of MOOCs’ – invited educators to consider how online platforms could help to foster lifelong learning.

“The best time to change is when things are already changing,” he said. “If a system has inertia it’s impossible to change.”

He challenged universities to rethink the traditional four-year student relationship model, which he told The PIE News “isn’t as relevant as it once was”.

“I think what we’re going to see much more of is where an individual gets a degree from a university, enters the workforce, drops back on weekends to do upskilling work; or there’s a change in the labour market and they’ll come back to university for six months and so on,” he predicted.

MOOCs can play a particularly significant role in reaching underrepresented student groups such as adult learners and those from lower-income households, he contended, though he said work was needed on a much grander scale to tackle “dismal” university completion rates among low-income households.

Educators were also called to arms to advocate that international education become a national priority for governments and industries alike.

“President Obama’s emphasis is on access… so how do we make sure our citizenry gets educated and can make responsible decisions in a democratic society?” Cushman asked.

“Part of that is learning about the world and if we think about 21st century skills… creative thinking, technology and cross-cultural skills,” she added. “This is something that’s very important and should be on the national agenda.”

Fernando Leon Garcia, President of CETYS University in Mexico, suggested that institutions should foster closer relationships with businesses by positioning internationalisation as a “strategic investment”.

“We have an opportunity to move globalisation from the periphery to the mainstream”

“We have an opportunity to move globalisation from the periphery to the mainstream,” he counselled.

Meanwhile, Prins Nevhutalu, Vice-Chancellor at South Africa’s Cape Peninsula University of Technology, warned that the trend of pouring government funding into top universities in the hope that they will enter global rankings “may be dire for the sector”, increasing inequality, and suggested money may be better spent supporting lower-ranked institutions.

“I was challenged that the leaders of industry come through our institutions,” he added, encouraging universities to leverage their contact with future leaders to teach social responsibility and how to face global challenges such as preserving the environment.

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