By Nicola Hancox, Editor of StudyTravel Magazine

This year’s EAIE conference in Glasgow welcomed around 5,000 participants from more than 90 countries and delivered 21 workshops, 152 sessions, 26 poster sessions, two debate dialogues, three plenaries and 10 campus tours, giving real resonance to its tag as Europe’s largest higher education conference.

A game of ‘sit down if you’ve never’ at the end of the conference revealed I was one of only a few that had never visited the city before and I’m pleased to say there were some lovely cultural touches including performances by a Scottish ceilidh band and a bevy of bagpipe players, not to mention a shop selling EAIE’s very own signature tartan designed specifically for the event, all of which helped remind delegates they were in an international city, and not just some exhibition centre.

Drafting in prominent speakers who may or may not be directly involved with international education but can identify with it in some capacity is always a risk but I’m pleased to say the opening and closing plenaries by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and Terry Waite didn’t disappoint.

A barrister, broadcaster and Labour member of the House of Lords, Glasgow-born Kennedy drew on her Scottish roots highlighting how education should never be a privilege of the few (the youngest of four sisters she was the only one to attend university). “Education is an essential key to fulfilment,” she noted, adding that those in the room were enablers. “You enable people to fly, you bring people together. The world needs people like you”. She challenged commodification, urging those present not to treat international students as common cash cows and flagged university league tables, expressing her reservations as to their role and purpose. When asked what the role of EU universities should be during the refugee crisis in Syria, she noted its absolute obligation to make space for scholars, a nod to the Scholars at Risk Network which aims to protect academics and prevent attacks on higher education communities overseas.

Best-selling author, humanitarian and former hostage negotiator Terry Waite meanwhile captivated the room as he spoke of his experiences in Lebanon during the late 1980s. Held hostage for five years, four of which were in solitary confinement, he noted how his education and love of books helped him though his ordeal, and he was able to draw on earlier book recollections to help keep his mind ticking over. He shared several humorous anecdotes including how his illiterate captors (who finally relented and sought to find him some reading stimulus) gave him a booked called The Great Escape – about an escape from a prisoner of war camp! It is imperative the young are encouraged to think critically, said Waite, and how better to do so than by engaging in education. Good language breathes harmony into the soul, he said.

There were plenty of networking opportunities across the four-day conference including one specifically aimed at newcomers and each one aimed to showcase local Glaswegian landmarks such as the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. In fact EAIE Chair, Laura Howard, applauded the importance of networking opportunities during the opening plenary, as these so very often prove the most prolific for making new contacts and acquaintances.

Of the sessions I attended a few stood out including one which analysed the internationalisation of Russia’s higher education system (a relatively new concept). Panellists spoke of major transformations such as a government-backed initiative called Project 5-100 which aims to have five of its 15 university participants ranked in the top 100 of the best academic institutions in the world by 2020.  These pioneering institutions are helping to put Russia on the international higher education map by adopting English taught degree provision and improving the country’s university infrastructure. The US$800 million investment will certainly help fuel the furnace! One of the project participants I spoke with after the session said there is plenty of opportunity for agent engagement here. Agents are a big part of the recruitment strategy at her university, she said, so it is important they remain a part of its future.

Please see my news story for more conference insights.

Several news stories this week highlight the higher echelons of education. The University of Sussex International Study Centre has just unveiled its new UK premises and facilities designed with international students in mind. A report by an Australian think tank meanwhile has revealed international students are paying more for an Australian university education. While I’m sure many won’t be at all surprised by this, it is easy to be blindsided by the financial contribution international students make to a country’s economy. What EAIE, its sessions and its guest speakers impressed on me last week however was the academic, social and cultural impact overseas students have on institutions and the wider education community, something none of us should ever lose sight of.

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