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US: AIEA event focuses on challenge to change

A Liberian peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner called for a new radical and authentic approach to internationalisation when she addressed delegates attending the AIEA conference in Washington DC this spring.

"It is time for us to teach education by the real world" challenged Leymah Gbowee. Photo: The PIE News

"It is time for us to teach education by the real world"

Leymah Gbowee called for American students to be exposed to the real suffering in the world, overseas – or in communities in the US, if they were not able to travel as part of their studies.

“It is self-defeating to admit these students and not let them stay”

“For us to change our world, we need to stop sanitising it,” she charged. “Wars do not sanitise. The suffering of people inside this country, or out, is not sanitised. It is time for us to teach education by the real world.”

She urged university stakeholders to move beyond tick boxes, ensuring US students who study abroad do not go armed with preconceptions about the people they will meet or the work they do, or expect to travel “the way everyone else has done it”.

And Gbowee challenged those attend rallies in support of Iranian democracy, for example, to befriend the Iranian students on their campus if they wanted to show more than token support.

She ended her keynote saying, “Local to global, interacting with people, knowing their stories, forming relationships… at the end of the day, some of the policy change that you see in our world will be because of the investment that you [made].”

The theme of the conference was “The Internationalisation Imperative in Turbulent Times”, which was also the focus for Arthur Levine, who delivered the opening plenary.

“Knowledge economies need bright minds, ideas and those countries that encourage that in higher education will prosper”

Levine is president of the Woodrow Wilson foundation, which identifies and support future leaders through fellowships and has Nobel laureates and Pulitzer prize winners among its cohort.

“[Societal and industrial] change of such magnitude leaves us without our moorings,” he charged, calling for a “time for experimentation” and the US to think broadly about how to internationalise in HE.

“Knowledge economies need bright minds, ideas and those countries that encourage that in higher education will prosper,” he said.

Talking macro-politics in the context of a global, digital, and mobile economy, Levine said the US needed “tools of communication and makers of partnerships”.

He said it would be wise to try and decouple internationalisation from the politics of globalism.

When questioned on how to do this, he recommended building a broad base of support and pivoting the argument for the benefit of the sector according to audience. Focus on economic advantage, or individual achievements possible within science & technology, for example.

Levine also weighed in on post-study work ability for international students: “It is self-defeating to admit these students and not let them stay”, he suggested.

The three-day conference saw hundreds of senior international officers from across the US convene with international partners and associated stakeholders.

Concurrent sessions covered topics ranging from working with education agents, engaging with refugees and the politics of nationalism in various countries.

• A gallery of photographs taken by The PIE, a media partner of the event, is here.

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