Graduates sitting in their graduation ceremony

In this article Professor Judith Lamie PhD, Pro Vice-Chancellor for International, shares her thoughts on the changing international higher education landscape.

International Higher Education has always had its challenges. We’ve seen changing patterns of demand and delivery, higher student expectations, changing employer needs and increasingly rigorous government regulations and immigration controls. We can now add to this a global health pandemic, increased volatility in the global market place and Brexit. These are all placing a significant burden on all players within the academic environment - schools, colleges and universities - and the communities and countries in which they are placed.

It’s been an interesting time to join Swansea University as the new Pro Vice Chancellor International.

There has been continued interest in the future of international higher education and the past few years have both escalated this debate and thrown it into a state of considerable confusion. The landscape of transnational education (TNE) is constantly evolving and this has been accelerated due to Covid-19.  International higher education in general, and TNE in particular, is no longer about access, it is about impact.  Impact on students, on community, on the environment, and on policy.  With changing patterns of mobility, identity and delivery in place, there is an urgent need to re-examine opportunities, responses and approaches, in order to ensure relevance and sustainability of approach.

While travel has been dramatically impacted and reduced, as a result of Covid-19, engagement and interaction has increased.  Increased constraints surrounding student mobility have led to an increase in domestic action and activity and with increasing concerns over borders, identity, freedom of movement and treatment abroad, the future of international exchange and movement is perhaps in doubt. Internationalisation at home has long been an issue however and perhaps, this is where the resilience and sustainability of internationalisation lies.  When faced with crisis, adaptation is necessary, but there is also an opportunity for reflection and review of what is at the core of internationalisation: what it means, and how it can best be sustained.

We may not be travelling as much or as far; we may not have been able to physically meet, but we have found other ways to compensate for that, in the short term. People will always need to be mobile. There will always be the need for physical travel, for physical real-time interaction in a shared environment, but we may in some situations do this less often and avail ourselves of the marvellous digital opportunities in front of us.

A major change during the pandemic was the use of, and indeed reliance on, online communication.  There have long been issues with the use of online teaching and learning, ranging from access, equity and capability, to pedagogy and formal recognition.  Within a period of roughly 24 hours, the education sector went from viewing online learning suspiciously to wholeheartedly accepting it as an equal form of teaching and learning. While this is somewhat misguided, it does demonstrate an ability to adapt and evolve.

But if there is one thing that we have learnt from the Covid-19 crisis, and from our responses; if there is one thing that we realise we cannot do without, it is each other. The situation has brought home to all of us the power and the pivotal need for co-operation, collaboration, and partnership.

There is still an appetite for internationalisation, as evidenced by student numbers and continued pathways of recruitment.  These are shifting however, accelerated by the pandemic, but perhaps part of a natural evolution of movement, as nations strengthen their domestic offerings and establish alternative partnerships.  When we take into consideration the percentage of students who actually move to take part in international higher education, it is a fraction of the total student body.

Many of the values we seek to encourage in our students as they move to be global citizens are values of empathy towards others, the desire to learn more about the world and to work together to combat the challenges of our world, values that are at the heart of internationalisation. In this age of ongoing global crisis, we need more than ever to embrace these values.

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