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MCO at the IAU 2015 International Conference in Siena

International Association of Universities 2015 International Conference

The theme of the International Association of Universities’ (IAU’s) 2015 International Conference was ‘Internationalization of Higher Education: moving beyond mobility.’ It was held in Siena and coincided with the inauguration of the University of Siena’s 775th academic year.

The starting point was that the expectations regarding the benefits of internationalisation are continuously expanding, as is the range of activities carried out in the name of internationalisation. However, many institutional, regional and national policies remain focused on only one aspect of the process - mobility. Internationalisation can also play a positive role in improving quality, broadening the curriculum, enriching research, enhancing the campus experience, institutional management, knowledge transfer and can bring other benefits. Only 3% of the world’s student population could expect to have an international element to their education, as defined by mobility – so what can be done for the other 97%? Was it possible to give students an international experience without mobility? And what about staff?

Although it would probably not be as comprehensive, or have as much personal impact, evidence was given that through ‘internationalisation at home’ it was possible to give home students an international experience. It could be done through both the formal and informal curriculum, contributions through what was taught and the other elements that make up the student experience, engagement inter-culturally with the community and so on. However, it did need to be planned carefully and deliberately.

The host Rector, Professor Angelo Riccaboni, used his inauguration of the academic year address to set out the University of Siena’s internationalisation strategy which put the benefits to students and staff at the centre of the policy. During the conference there were excellent examples of how universities had innovated by working together with universities in the same and in different countries, involving support and staff and students as well as academic staff and administrators, developing dual and joint degrees, introducing bilingualism and adjusting assessments accordingly, setting up ‘buddy schemes for students’, effective use of ICT to create ‘global classrooms’ and a host of other activities.

One common factor in successful examples was that the activity was led from top with enthusiastic engagement throughout the university. Another was how parts of the university which were not in the front line of internationalisation benefitted from the outcomes of other parts being so.

Of course there were impediments. The shortage of funds was commonly cited along with questions as to who should pay. Staff were not always enthusiastic. The massification in higher educations in recent years and political attempts to open it up to more students from less well-off families, while they had generally been successful, could face new challenges if students had to pay more for a more internationalised experience. Different standards and quality assurance mechanisms in different countries made the assessment of comparability challenging and made the awarding of joint and dual degrees more difficult - and there were others.

But in terms of the 17 UN sustainable development goals, post 2015, although education is only explicitly one of them, education is implicitly necessary for achieving all of them. As they were global goals and the achievement of all of them would benefit from the sharing of experience across continents, internationalisation, whether through mobility or at home, was therefore an imperative. It was also a means though which universities could demonstrate that they were serving society in a sustainable way.

From the perspective of the fundamental values which the Magna Charta exists to promote; adherence to them by all parties makes the creation of partnerships between institutions less risky and breeds more confidence. Integrity is a given as the basis of a strong partnerships and in the level of confidence that results from undertaking necessary due diligence. Academic freedom enables staff and students to engage fully, sensitively and responsibly.

In the words of Nelson Mandela: 'Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.' With more knowledge about the world and more engagement of students and staff in it, universities should be set to play an even greater role in the development of their societies, locally, nationally and globally, even without mobility.

David Lock

3 November 2015

More information about the IAU conference can be found on its website:

Details of the UN Sustainable Development Goals can be found at

Published on 5 November 2015