European universities and the cities in which they are located can help tackle the rise in populism by ensuring that marginalised communities are among the “winners” of their internationalisation strategies.
That is the view of Bianka Stege, director of education and society for the European Union region at the British Council, who said that internationalisation approaches must be “much wider and much more nuanced than [increasing] international student numbers or [driving] direct investments for cities”.
A new report from the British Council, launched at the organisation’s Going Global conference in London on 24 May, looks at the internationalisation activities of cities and universities and how the two can work effectively together in the face of growing international competition, based on interviews with university staff and city officials in Amsterdam, Dublin, Glasgow and Hanover. This year’s Going Global is on the theme of universities’ relationships with cities.
The study highlights that the four cities analysed have different models of internationalisation, but in all cases the strategies are “long term, deliberate and part of a wider vision of the future of the city” and there is “a crucial link between improving local areas and internationalisation by creating a place that people want to visit and stay in”.
However, the report states that “the international futures of universities and cities are threatened by populism and protectionism”.
When asked how universities and cities might be able to tackle this political climate, Ms Stege said: “Internationalisation is really a long-term goal where both universities and cities are deliberately creating an attractive and open environment to live and to work. The winners of this internationalisation process must be marginalised communities as well as internationally connected businesses.”
For example, she said that the Glasgow Convention Bureau works with universities to host international conferences in marginalised areas of the city so that they benefit economically.
Meanwhile, students at universities of applied sciences in Amsterdam are involved in a project to “make the city smarter with the help of technology”, she added.
These approaches of internationalising marginalised pockets in or outside a city can be implemented alongside a focus on more “obvious” areas of mutual influence for cities and universities, such as infrastructure and housing, Ms Stege said.
The report also recommends that local communities are involved in internationalisation activities, through events or through consultation on future activity.
However, it notes that internationalisation is “fragile” and that cities and institutions are “still at the mercy of visa regimes and pressures on public finances”.
Ms Stege said that universities and cities can try to withstand such changes by having “long-term ambitions” as well as short-term goals. For example, Hanover has a city strategy covering the period up to 2030.
The study adds that in the most successful examples of internationalisation there is usually a dedicated member of staff in the city office to coordinate relations with universities.