After two years in the prestigious role of president of EAIE, and two years prior as vice president, Michelle Stewart has officially handed over the baton to Piet Van Hove. Does this mean the end of her involvement with the organisation known for its annual conference? Far from it.
Stewart will now take on a new role in the general council to allow for continuity of the success of the non-profit centre, giving her the opportunity pass on wisdom and experience to incoming council members.
Stewart, who has worked in higher education for over 20 years, hopes that any extra time she has will give her the opportunity to plan accordingly her journey from her home in Glasgow to next year’s 33rd EAIE conference in Rotterdam – by bicycle. She had initially planned to cycle to Barcelona for the 2022 conference as a nod to one of the overarching themes of the conference – sustainability.
“It was definitely something everyone was talking about. What can we do? What can we all do? And it would have been quite symbolic as the incoming president,” she tells The PIE.
Unfortunately, the logistics of the journey didn’t work out in time but Stewart is confident that both she, and many of her colleagues, are committed to making it happen in 2023.
This year’s conference saw a record number of delegates. However, previously, Stewart had some niggling concerns about the turnout post-pandemic.
“It was a genuine thing that we didn’t know whether the sector would continue to want to come to these types of events. It was a real question mark. Will people get back on planes? Will they have the budget?”
“It was a genuine thing that we didn’t know whether the sector would continue to want to come to these types of events. It was a real question mark”
Stewart’s worries were quashed as the conference welcomed over 6,300 participants from 90 countries, and 400 speakers, although she still wonders if this is a “bounce back” or if it will level out to pre-pandemic numbers.
“We have a high percentage of completely new people, that’s really encouraging as well, and they’re not all junior members of staff, but from different countries. I think people are saying ‘we haven’t been anywhere for three years so let’s get back to EAIE!'”
This year’s conference was Stewart’s first in-person conference as president due to the pandemic, and although EAIE delivers an impressive virtual agenda, Stewart agrees that one of the qualities the conference is most loved for is how it successfully “facilitates the informal ad hoc meeting”.
“That’s the thing we struggled with, with the only online events. The random encounters couldn’t really happen.”
However, Stewart recognises the importance of the conference being ever-evolving in its content and structure.
“The items we are still dealing with are climate, which is reflected in the awards we made, conflict such as in Ukraine but also the aftermath of conflict in Afghanistan and also inclusion. These are the big things that we are all still trying to grapple with but then there are other things such as the decolonisation of the curriculum. I think that is another big thing that we are probably going to be focusing on more as we move forward.”
“What you’ll probably see is more hybrid, more virtual, and blended approaches to what we do which is training and knowledge exchange,” says Stewart.
Stewart seems excited to be getting back to her role of director of internationalisation for University of Strathclyde’s humanities and social sciences department, from which she has been seconded while carrying out her EAIE duties. She tells The PIE that there is a lot of work to be done.
“The main thing there is trying to understand what students are going to need in a post-pandemic world and opening up student mobility again. Responding to [the] Turing [scheme] is something we are going to have to look at. I think a lot of the academics are quite concerned about how we continue to engage with European partners when we don’t have any funding in place.”
Stewart is eager to hear more news from the Scottish government on what she colloquially calls “the Scottish scheme” – the country’s new education exchange program of which the details are still to be laid out – and says that she has written to the government in a bid to find out more information on when the sector can expect an announcement.