“Differences should definitely be respected, embraced and harnessed”
Carrying the theme of ‘diversity and inclusivity in higher education in the Asia Pacific’, the conference brought together experts from around the region to discuss best practice in ensuring the broader population engages with, and participates in, education mobility programs.
“Differences should definitely be respected, embraced and harnessed to promote best practices, smart partnerships, exchange of ideas and impactful networking,” said Raja Zarith Sofiah, queen of Johor (the southern state of Malaysia).
“This is vitally important in the current age of technology which has transformed our vast world into a single community.”
Speaking at the opening plenary, Zarith added that while diversity and inclusion must pay respect to political, ethnic and cultural differences, there was a growing need to engage with low socio-economic students as well as those with disabilities.
“The increasing emphasis on diversity and inclusivity in higher education around the world is due partly to our roles as global citizens,” she said.
“Diversity and inclusivity in higher education should not be just about embracing racial and religious differences, but should also include those who may be physically or mentally [disabled].”
Malaysian deputy minister for education Teo Nie Ching said education was key to fostering a “culture of happiness, love, and mutual respect”.
“The increasing emphasis on diversity and inclusivity… is due partly to our roles as global citizens”
“As educators and agents of international education, we have the world’s best interests at heart. It is our duty and obligation to ensure that today and tomorrow are tinted with colours of progress and peace,” she said.
Speaking on the fourth industrial revolution and its impact on global outlooks, Teo added that education “cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”.
Far-right nationalism was also a key talking point throughout the conference, which was held shortly after the terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and several speakers highlighted the need for international education to engage with all parts of the community.
“Many of us work in international education every day and understand and appreciate the benefits and strength a diverse and inclusive society delivers,” said APAIE president Sarah Todd.
“However, the events of 15 March reinforce the need for us to look beyond the campus.
“I believe it is both our responsibility and our obligation to ensure everything we do, be it with partner institutions or cohorts of students, touches the wider community within which we each live and encourages not only tolerance but appreciation of diversity.”
Lily Kong, president of Singapore Management University, agreed with Todd’s comments, pointing to a need to promote global citizenry in the face of populist ideologies and to broaden the conversation to outside of those directly advocating for student mobility.
“As educators and agents of international education, we have the world’s best interests at heart”
“For many of us in the room, it would be a no-brainer, in education as we are, to think that you need to develop global citizens… not just national citizens,” she said.
According to Kong, first-hand experience of student mobility is needed to benefit fully, and she added the sector must advocate social responsibility beyond personal and career advancement.
“This is the fundamental appreciation that we are all part of a larger community to and for which we are responsible,” she said.
To develop those aspirations, president of Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University, Jenny Su, advocated a deeper understanding of institutional identity.
“Institutional identity, namely its characteristics and culture, is probably far more critical than ever when the international education becomes increasingly diverse,” she told delegates at the Presidents’ Roundtable.
“Actions responding to the global challenge can only be properly taken based on the true understanding of… inner attributes.”
APAIE 2019 saw another record attendance, with over 2,500 delegates from throughout the Asia Pacific and beyond attending the event. APAIE 2020 will take place in Vancouver.