At the end of a long day at Europe’s largest international educators’ fair, the importance of free alcohol in pulling a crowd to your stall cannot be underestimated.
Yesterday evening, it seemed a good chunk of the 5,000 participants at this year’s European Association for International Education, taking place in Glasgow from 15 to 18 September, were stationed round those stalls offering a complimentary drink.
Whether it was the lager served by the Dutch, the Bordeaux on offer from the French or the aquavit provided by the Norwegians, the free booze certainly seemed to draw in delegates after a busy day of networking, marketing their institutions and attending talks.
The pulling power of a glass of wine – also on offer at the official reception at Glasgow’s excellent Science Centre – seems to be a constant feature of the event, or at least it has been at the four EAIE conferences I’ve attended (Copenhagen 2011, Dublin 2012, Istanbul 2013 and Glasgow 2015).
But, as something of an EAIE conference veteran, I’ve noticed a few changes over the years, particularly in the make-up of stands populating the event’s main exhibition hall.
This is a fairly rough science, but it seems some countries have really stepped up their game on the internationalisation front, at least if measured by the number and prominence of their university stalls at this year’s event.
I can’t remember seeing this many Turkish universities, even in Istanbul two years ago. There are about 30 institutions on the Study in Turkey main stand here in Glasgow, but many more booths for other Turkish universities dotted around the exhibition hall.
Russia – which aims to have five universities in the world’s top 100 by 2020 – is also here in a big way. Its vast stand, crowned by a huge “5/100” banner suspended from the ceiling, is unmissable, with about 20 universities in attendance.
Japan, which also has a high profile internationalisation programme, also has at least 30 universities here, while South Korea’s impressively large stand hosts around 20 institutions.
China is again here in force, with about 30 institutions, but its main stand doesn’t look as dominating as it once did.
Smaller but eye-catching stands – Chile, Argentina – also seem to be doing well, with delegates perhaps drawn to the stunning landscape photographs, promising “Experience Beyond Study”.
I’ve been surprised at the large presence of UK institutions here too. Yes, it is on our home turf, making it easier and cheaper to send staff, but the British stands (once fairly small, few in number and low-key) are among the most prominent.
Study in Scotland boasts an enormous structure close to the entrance, while Wales has a fairly large stand emblazoned with the red dragon flag. Some 15 English universities are grouped together with the British Council, while Study in Liverpool (featuring the city’s three universities and Edge Hill) has its own separate stand. Other universities (Coventry, UCL) also make up something of a UK zone.
As institutions will attest, fees for booths and delegates to these events are not cheap, particularly when you add in the cost of travel, accommodation and expenses. So the considerable presence of UK institutions here might suggest that UK universities are starting to value the importance of student exchanges, overseas recruitment and other internationalisation efforts more than ever.
Marlene Johnson, executive director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators (the US equivalent of the EAIE) believes that the same is true of the US, whose institutions are out in force here in Glasgow.
“Every year I come to the EAIE conference, I see more and more US representation,” she told a session yesterday.
I would agree with that sentiment. It seems that even the biggest players in global higher education are focusing on the international market like never before, turning up to international events alongside relative minnows to network and establish better links with overseas institutions.
And, given the sizeable investment in sending teams here, they are definitely not just here for the free booze.