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Reflections on a global Wales…

As I sat on a train weaving its way along Wales’ border with England, I found myself reflecting on an inspiring couple of days which began with The PIE Live Europe conference in London and ended with a spotlight on international education at the Senedd.

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"Wales has a particular advantage within the UK of being proudly bilingual"

Between both, it’s fair to say that no international education shaped stone has been left unturned last week!

It was a privilege to be invited back to speak at this year’s PIE Live Europe. We’ve got a good story to tell in Wales and I felt a particular sort of pride in showcasing the significant investment that is being made here in international education.

The innovative programs that we’ve developed – from the establishment of Global Wales in 2015 to the launch of the Welsh Government’s ambitious mobility scheme, Taith – are rightly drawing international attention. Taith, by the way, means journey in Welsh.

My own taith isn’t altogether uncommon. A first language Welsh speaker, educated through the medium of Welsh, I took to modern languages, pursued them and developed a taste for all things international. Coincidence? I don’t believe so.

Wales has a particular advantage within the UK of being proudly bilingual which is proven to boost cultural understanding, tolerance and an aptitude for language learning. By now my daughters are two of the one million Welsh speakers that the Welsh Government is hoping to have reached by 2050.

Which brings me to the Senedd; the home of Welsh politics since 1999. Into which last week we invited two enthusiastic Global Wales scholars.

Amy from Vietnam and Darcie from Canada were gushing about the warmth of their welcome and their experience of studying in Wales. The contribution of Darcie, Amy and their peers so valuable to creating a thriving, inclusive and outward-looking Wales.

Darcie and Amy are by no means alone. They are part of a growing community of around 25,000 international students and over 2,000 international staff studying or working in Welsh universities and contributing over £600m in export earnings annually. Through Global Wales, we support an increased flow of diversified international talent into Wales, stimulate international partnerships for Welsh institutions and raise their profile in key overseas markets.

In 2022/23 Global Wales expects to have reached around 150 million prospective students through its Study in Wales campaigns, funded 45 Global Wales scholars – including those in delivered in partnership with the Fulbright, Chevening and Gilman programs – supported at least 25 institutional partnerships and delivered a number of strategic inward and outward delegations, including a recent visit of 20 heads of German Universities of Applied Sciences to Wales.

It will have also established strategic relationships with the Flanders Research Foundation and the Karnataka State Government in India.

“In 2019, the Welsh Government announced that Wales would become the world’s first Nation of Sanctuary”

But international education is about values. The Senedd also heard about Welsh universities’ partnerships with Ukrainian institutions. Much like their counterparts across the border, so much good work is being done by Welsh universities to support the sector in Ukraine – from supporting refugees in the community, to supplying IT equipment, and facilitating research collaboration.

What colleagues may not realise is that in 2019, the Welsh Government announced that Wales would become the world’s first Nation of Sanctuary, a plan endorsed by the United Nations. That universities contribute so proactively to this welcoming, tolerant and inclusive Welsh agenda, and that we in Global Wales have been able to support these initiatives, is important.

Gorau Cymro, Cymro oddi cartre. So goes the Welsh expression. It suggests that the more time one spends away from Wales, the better the advocate one becomes. Perhaps.

It felt a bit like that at The PIE Live. I’m proud of what we’re doing here, proud to be proactively outward-looking and to be collaborating, innovating and, yes, leading the way on developing international education programs within the UK. Above all, proud to be distinctly, bilingually, globally Cymraeg.

About the author: Gwen Williams is Assistant Director at membership body Universities Wales representing the interests of Wales’ nine universities. Gwen has responsibility for international and heads the Global Wales program. She joined the organisation in 2014 as International Policy Adviser. Prior to that she held a number of roles in Brussels in the European Parliament, UK Representation to the EU, and Welsh Higher Education Brussels.

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