The global higher education (HE) sector is expected to grow by $37.8bn between 2020 and 2024. Demand for higher education is growing on the global scale, and trends are shifting as a wider number of courses and institutions become available to a wider number of students virtually. The need to forge and strengthen international partnerships between higher education institutions has been strongly highlighted by recent events – and not just limited to a global pandemic.
As we move into an uncertain future economically, socially and politically, the importance of having these international relationships grows. Here are just some of the ways that higher education partnerships on a global scale benefit the local, national and international communities.
Solving global problems
One in five of the world’s scientific papers are co-authored internationally. As communication methods and international travel (pre-COVID) have become increasingly accessible, so has the opportunity for international institutions to collaborate on research. It’s vital that the HE community has the ability to scrutinise, debate, and share experience in order to accomplish scientific and academic goals.
For true innovation to occur, accepted opinions and ideas should be constructively challenged – and getting a diverse, international perspective is key to this. Outside of assisting with industrial and economic developments, this kind of collaboration can help higher institutions to solve global problems in concord. Partnering with other institutions internationally gives access to a wider pool of resources, knowledge and experience in response to a complex problem. It also gives the institutions more power in alliance to affect change through communication with governing authorities and businesses.
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven HE institutions all over the world to collaborate – initially in tracing and understanding the virus, then in finding ways to contain the spread and understand the symptoms, and ultimately, to push towards developing a vaccine.
Currently, three institutions of higher learning are included on the World Health Organisation’s list of CEPI-supported candidate vaccines – University of Oxford, University of Queensland, and University of Hong Kong. Institutions and pharmaceutical companies have had to come together to accelerate a process which can usually take as long as 15 years to complete. And there are many more examples of how institutions have come together to solve problems surrounding COVID-19 – including University of Plymouth working in partnership with Shanghai Veterinary Institute and Kansas State University to develop vaccines for animal populations in an attempt to tackle future outbreaks before they reach humans.
Outside of the very urgent problems created by COVID-19 is another very urgent problem – that of global sustainability and climate change. There are a number of global university partnerships and compacts in place in support of meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). These include the University Global Coalition and the Declaration on University Global Engagement.
Programmes like Engineers without Borders aim to embed sustainability and climate change problems within the curriculums of institutions worldwide. Each year first and second year students compete in the Engineering for People Design challenge, answering an engineering brief for a real-world problem.
With trade disputes rumbling on between the US and China, and with the United Kingdom leaving the EU, and a myriad of other complex issues, the global political landscape is fraught and changing rapidly between many of the world’s most developed countries. Forging partnerships focused on a common global challenge or goal and driven by the need for learning, discovery and is invaluable in steadying international relations in times of political and economic turbulence.
Education is recognised by any leaders as a “soft power” – in that having a well-respected education system will improve your economic and political reach, and there is a symbiotic relationship between international relations and international education which cannot be ignored.
For all of the reasons discussed so far in this article, global higher education partnerships benefit both the local and global economy. Increased capacity for innovation, improved international relations, creating a global pool of resources and expertise – all have positive impacts on the economy. Improving opportunities and access for international students directly impacts the local economy, as well as creating sustainable growth for the future by increasing access to skilled workers.
In uncertain times, forging global and international partnerships is vital in ensuring a sustainable future. Higher education institutions, as centres of excellence, are vital in leading the charge in crossing borders to unlock opportunities for collaboration, knowledge sharing and innovation that simply aren’t possible with a local or national focus.