In a world where “borders almost don’t exist any more”, it is “absolutely critical for students, institutions and societies to join the international global environment”.
That was the argument of John Hudzik, former vice-president and dean of international programmes at Michigan State University, in his keynote address at the eighth Latin America and the Caribbean Higher Education Conference in Bogotá, Colombia, on 24 November.
Professor Hudzik argued that internationalisation was about “more than getting your photo taken to prove that you’ve been to another university” and had to be seen as “a long-run commitment”. It needed to be “infused into existing missions” – of teaching, research and public service – and not added on as a separate fourth mission.
And, since even optimistic scenarios suggested that only about 5 per cent of students would be internationally mobile, it was crucial also to look at “internationalis[ing] the curriculum and classroom at home”.
Furthermore, given that growth in co-authored papers is proceeding far faster internationally than within single countries and that “few institutions can afford cutting-edge research on their own”, Professor Hudzik urged Latin American universities to “get in the game”.
The event had been opened by Luz Karime Abadía Alvarado, Colombia’s deputy minister for higher education, who said that education remained “one of the priority issues” for the country’s foreign policy.
Data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) indicate that just over 25,000 students had taken part in international activities, mainly in Spain and Mexico, in the last year for which figures were available, which was “higher than Chile but still low by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) standards”.
However, Camilo Gaitan Garcia, rector of the Unipanamericana University Foundation, expressed concerns that “it is hard to find many people with mastery of English as well as subject expertise” in the Colombian academy.
The rest of the conference brought together experts from Colombia, the Latin America region and the rest of the world to offer insights into best practice and suggest how Colombia can best embrace internationalisation.
Uwe Brandenburg, managing partner of CHE Consult in Germany, stressed the need for solid data about the impact of internationalisation projects, including their success in “meeting national, regional and social goals”, since these were “not usually measured and not reflected in publications”.
Peter Cunningham, head of the Unit for Higher Education Internationalisation in the Developing World at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, in South Africa, urged Colombia to “align its internationalisation policies with national development goals” and to “address rebranding issues”, such as a lingering perception that the country is dangerous.
The conference was sponsored by a wide range of Colombian universities with the support of Invest in Bogotá, the Ministry of Education and others. It was followed by a postgraduate fair organised by BMI Media where universities – mainly from the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden – got a chance to try to recruit Colombian students.