The prospects for expanding international higher education opportunities in North America “may seem pretty grim”, but there has never been a more important time to promote them – “for our society and the goal of peace around the world”.
This was the message to nearly 9,000 educators who have gathered in Vancouver for a conference on the internationalisation of North American higher education. The 63rd conference and expo of Nafsa, the Association of International Educators, opened yesterday with the theme of “Innovation and sustainability in international education”.
Speaking at the opening plenary, Marlene Johnson, executive director and chief executive officer of Nafsa, urged delegates to keep striving to give students more and better opportunities in international higher education.
“It’s no secret that we are facing a challenging political and budgetary environment in the United States, and the prospects for expanding international education opportunities may seem pretty grim,” she said. “Yet it is exactly at times like these that we must stand up and find new ways to articulate the importance of international education for our society and the goal of peace around the world.”
Meredith McQuaid – who is associate vice-president and dean for global programmes at the University of Minnesota and also president and chair of the board at Nafsa – said that the sector was facing “extraordinary” challenges.
“In the current economic climate, we are being forced to do more for less. The impact of the work we do individually is multiplied exponentially when we work together.”
She added: “As we spend this week sharing our ideas, our experience and our passion for the field, we enrich our understanding of our practice and our leadership, and we recommit ourselves to building a better world through global education.”
Catherine Vertesi – vice-president of business, tourism and international programmes at Vancouver’s Capilano University and chair of the 2011 annual conference committee for Nafsa – said that work in internationalising higher education was more important than ever.
She cited the Arab Spring, the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand and the tornadoes in the US as disruptive events that had underlined the solidarity and comity of the higher education community worldwide.
“It was personal,” she said of how such events had affected individual academics and institutions and how they had responded. “And it was personal because we all know each other. We know each other through our students, our colleagues, our conferences and through our shared values.”