Speaking personally, but as a member of the Higher Education Academy Board, we have often discussed the question of the ethics of the HEA’s expanding portfolio of global activities.
It’s not something that I or my fellow board members take lightly and as Mark Jones, chief operating officer of the HEA, says in a recent article ( “HEA under pressure over Bahrain links” , News, 28 November), decisions about “where and how [the HEA] works internationally” are never clear-cut. That said, my view is that, wherever practical, UK higher education should engage in cultural diplomacy and act as an ambassador for the values that we hold dear. The UK and the HEA also benefit from such international activity. Of course, this work subsidises activities to support teaching and learning in the UK but, more importantly, it engenders an exchange of ideas. Nonetheless, there is a balance to be struck between unintentionally granting credibility to unethical regimes and driving change. I think that it is clear that the London School of Economics got it wrong in relations with Gaddafi’s Libya but that the University of Nottingham and others are getting it right in China.
I am glad that the HEA has been operating a rigorous ethical policy for its overseas work. I am also glad that Mike Diboll, ex-head of continuing professional development at the University of Bahrain’s Bahrain Teachers College, has raised questions about it because these policies must always be kept under scrutiny. While my view is that the HEA has got the balance right for now, complacency would undoubtedly lead to more harm than good.