EAIE is something special in European higher education. This vowel-laden acronym (long referred to playfully by EAIE regulars as the “Ay, yay, yay”—pronounced as a Spanish speaker might groan with a headache) stands for the European Association for International Education. Through committed leadership, and a bit of serendipity, this is an organization that seems to be coming skillfully into its own as it approaches the quarter-century mark.
Europe, as we all know, has been and continues to go through a fascinating yet difficult process of higher education reform, made increasingly complex by the Euro zone crisis and the shaky overall global financial outlook. There is active, fundamental reconsideration underway of the central purposes of higher education, for example the extent to which labor force cultivation and innovation specifically to drive the knowledge economy should stand as primary goals, at the expense of time and resources devoted to more humanistic aspects of students’ personal, civic and intellectual development. In tandem, deep discussion in Europe currently centers on how best to achieve the many objectives that have been laid at the feet of the postsecondary sector by governments, industry and society at large.
The international dimensions of these developments have been particularly exciting as well as challenging. The questions being asked in Dublin last month at EAIE’s 24th annual conference mirror those under consideration across Europe and around the world: How can we be sure about the outcomes of our work? How do we find the “correct” balance between cooperation and competition‑ internationally and inter-institutionally? Where is the internationalization agenda headed, and why? Are we prepared to meet the challenges of the future, particularly when it comes to addressing the explosive potential of technology to transform the (international) higher education landscape? What kind of institutional leadership will we need moving forward to provide the right kind of guidance in this complex and shifting environment?
To the leadership question, University College Dublin president, Hugh Brady, only half-jokingly quipped in one of the conference Dialogue sessions that the list of job requirements for today’s competitive university presidents seems to include “walking on water”. A tall order, indeed, particularly as European higher education institutions across the board are drawn ever more deeply into the global higher education order, but in many cases are profoundly committed to distinctly European traditions, such as the fundamental “public good” nature of higher education and a rather rankings-averse cultural predisposition.
The questions being raised, the wide range of delegates involved in the conversation, and the increasingly strong convening power that EAIE seems to wield in terms of attracting top speakers, create exciting opportunities for American higher education professionals to expand our understanding of key issues and the networks we can draw on for further information and ideas.
Of course, the EAIE conference, as with many European-level events, assembles an inordinate number of participants from northwestern Europe. This tendency was perhaps even more pronounced this year in light of the grave financial realities being faced in the European south. Still, the diversity of voices is a notable aspect of EAIE conference conversations. This year, perhaps because of the conference location in relatively “nearby” Ireland, substantial numbers of American voices—from the highest echelons of NAFSA and ACE leadership, to journalists from US higher education media sources, to rank-and-file US university international office staff—were heard regularly in sessions and in the conference hallways, asking questions and sharing insights and ideas. For an American like me with keen interests in seeing internationalization deepen and flourish in the United States, it’s encouraging to see increasing numbers of American delegates actively engaged at EAIE, both enriching and learning from this experience.
In 2013, EAIE will convene its 25th annual conference in Istanbul, under the timely theme “Weaving the future of global partnerships”. Destination Turkey will require American delegates to travel farther—geographically and culturally—to participate. But, despite the fact that it does go without saying, I’ll still say it: Extending the networking and professional development landscape for US higher education administrators and faculty is critically important in the current context, and engagement with EAIE provides some exciting and timely opportunities to do just that.
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