We live in an unequal world. On a global scale, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made this abundantly clear.
Indeed, in a briefing paper published by Oxfam in January, COVID-19 is referred to as the ‘inequality virus’, as it “has exposed, fed off and increased existing inequalities of wealth, gender and race”.
The briefing paper also notes that we are living through “a pivotal point in human history, a moment that will be written about in history books”.
As we reflect on a post-crisis world, we recognise that we “cannot return to the brutal, unequal and unsustainable world that the virus found us in”.
While suffering its third, and most severe, COVID-19 wave to date, South Africa has just witnessed an unprecedented week of widespread looting and violence, mainly in two provinces. In an article published in the Washington Post, Eusebius McKaiser, a South African political analyst and author, argues that the deeper roots of this recent violence lie in poverty and inequality.
He points out that “the levels of asset and income inequality make this country one of the most economically unjust societies on earth”. Further, he notes that inequality in South Africa “is so deep that it correlates with gratuitous violence”.
The recent unrest in South Africa has been described by some commentators as a watershed moment in the country’s history. Combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, underfunding of higher education and chronic inequality, the current context also marks a pivotal moment for higher education internationalisation, not only in South Africa but also in other parts of the world.
How do we, in the words of the Indian author Arundhati Roy, consider the pandemic a ‘portal’, an opportunity for people to “break with the past and imagine their world anew”? How do we create a more inclusive and socially just world, and what does this mean in the context of higher education internationalisation?
The current higher education landscape around the globe, which has been severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the suspension of many activities reliant on international mobility, compels us to think more humanely and to bring about positive change in higher education, internationalisation and our societies at large.
In the case of South Africa, inequality at individual and institutional levels is a key characteristic of the higher education sector that has been made more starkly visible by COVID-19.
Highlighting parallels between the global pandemic and the global trend of internationalisation, the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA) pointed out in a position paper published in May 2020 that both “do not act as equalising forces”.
Rather, “they bring existing inequalities to the fore and can further deepen existing divides between those who have – for example, opportunities to benefit from online teaching or study abroad places – and those who do not”.
Therefore, it is proposed that to “help mitigate disparities, internationalisation efforts of universities should be permeated by an agenda that focuses on inclusion and social justice”.
Contributions of internationalisation
These considerations are at the centre of the upcoming IEASA conference, themed ‘Internationalisation, Inclusion and Social Justice – Towards a fairer world’, which will be held virtually from 25-27 August 2021.
Calling for conference proposals, IEASA invited leaders, experts, researchers, educators, academics, practitioners, students and innovators interested in international higher education to specifically engage with the following questions:
• Can internationalisation help promote social justice and inclusion? What implications will this have for intercultural learning experiences, global classrooms, the curriculum and overall student experiences in higher education?
• Can internationalisation approaches, models and practices be reconfigured to create greater benefit to society? What implications will this have for traditional mobility programmes, Internationalisation at Home initiatives and other practices?
• Can higher education internationalisation be reimagined and redefined from the perspectives of South Africa, Africa and the global South? What role do diverse concepts, epistemologies and philosophies play in that regard?
• What is the interrelationship between internationalisation, transformation, decolonisation and Africanisation?
• Can technology be leveraged to promote inclusion and social justice? Can we address challenges such as the digital divide so that we truly leave no one behind? Can technology play a role in shaping narratives towards a fairer world?
Addressing these and other questions, speakers and presenters at the 23rd IEASA Annual Conference will explore the contributions internationalisation can make towards a more inclusive and socially just world, with COVID-19 acting as a great disruptor but also an accelerator of innovation and creativity.
The conference will open with a panel of South African higher education leaders offering their analyses of the current context of internationalisation, inclusion and social justice.
Parallel session presenters will:
• Reimagine international higher education collaborations to promote inclusion and social justice, using a South African case study;
• Redefine higher education internationalisation with consideration for South African historical and contemporary perspectives, realities and needs;
• Explore the very idea of internationalisation as a pipe dream for universities in developing economies;
• Contemplate how notions of horizontality can be incorporated into the existing vertical frameworks that govern internationalisation, and particularly study abroad, in South Africa;
• Discuss what decolonising higher education internationalisation means and how it can be achieved;
• Consider inclusive internationalisation policy development, using an appreciative inquiry approach;
• Debate the use of diplomacy in international partnerships for social justice, inclusivity and a fairer world in the context of contested spaces;
• Elaborate on ways to improve support services for (international) students, and
• Contemplate the role of virtual mobility as a catalyst for truly inclusive internationalisation.
During the conference, delegates will be able to gain practical experience by attending a masterclass focusing on how to apply the fundamental principles of creativity and innovation to issues of diversity and inclusion in higher education and internationalisation.
There will also be a workshop on Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) to engage with COIL as a pedagogy and a tool to enhance internationalisation and curriculum decolonisation.
For more information about the IEASA Conference and to register, click here.
Dr Samia Chasi is an international education practitioner, researcher and facilitator with more than 20 years of experience in this field. She currently serves as strategic adviser for the International Education Association of South Africa.