This is where the concept of ‘knowledge diplomacy’ – that international higher education, research and innovation has a role in building and strengthening relations between countries – comes in, according to adjunct professor of education at the University of Toronto, Jane Knight.
“Sometimes it’s easier for people coming from research and higher education to keep contacts going”
As she introduced her discussion paper Knowledge Diplomacy in Action, Knight noted the responsibility the sector has to contribute to finding solutions to problems affecting the world.
The panellists also referenced the fact that education links can sometimes be easier to maintain than traditional diplomacy routes in politically difficult times.
The new research details eight case studies, where the “collaborative knowledge diplomacy approach is being explored as an alternative to the more one-sided soft power approach”.
Examples cited in the report include the Pan African University, the German Jordanian University and the Sustainable Development Solution Network at the United Nations.
The knowledge diplomacy approach is different from knowledge as a source of soft power, Knight told the audience in the German capital.
“We are moving into a post-truth era, where we need to have reliable research and verifiable evidence in terms of looking at these global challenges,” she explained.
“I don’t think any of us would deny that knowledge can be used as power,” she added, asking, “how do we ensure that knowledge can be used in the collaborative, mutual, reciprocal way that we are together addressing these global challenges?”
The internationalisation agenda which has developed over the past few decades is a “marvellous basis” to build knowledge diplomacy on, Dorothea Rüland secretary general of the German Academic Exchange Service – DAAD highlighted.
Higher education can work in areas where it may not be feasible for diplomats to operate, she added.
“Sometimes it’s easier for people coming from research and higher education to keep contacts going,” Rüland suggested, relaying that DAAD had been asked by the German Foreign Office to travel to North Korea to gain an idea “where we can start cooperation”.
“Sometimes we have close networks which we can make use of, in really difficult times, where it might be that politics has come to its limits,” she said.
However, it remains vital that there is a common interest for both parties to ensure knowledge diplomacy will work, Rüland explained.
“It is our access to knowledge resources that divides”
From a Pakistani perspective, Tariq Banuri, chairman of the country’s Higher Education Commission explained that knowledge diplomacy can be used to help Pakistan develop.
Knowledge diplomacy can also contribute to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, he indicated.
“The biggest driver of economic growth today has become access to knowledge,” Banuri said.
“And the problem we confront today is that we cannot tolerate, we should not tolerate, the prospect of a new form of apartheid coming up between the knowledge haves and the knowledge have nots. The entire agenda of SDGs is not only to solve problems but to overcome the gaps between us.”
Banuri noted that Pakistan has been advocating a shift towards a positive sum game in its international agenda.
“When we look in the future we do have a major challenge ahead of us.
“The challenge comes from a very different domain. The challenge is today, unlike in the past, it is not our access to human resources or industry that divides us, it is our access to knowledge resources that divides.”
“It is through cooperation that we will advance the agenda, it is not through competition,” he said.