This panel discussion at Going Global examined if universities need to focus more on local concerns rather than international engagement. ‘Bursting the international education bubble’ presented a number of viewpoints and strategies from universities around the world.

Vivienne Stern, Director, Universities UK International, opened the session with a cautious note referring to the UK context.  ‘This topic is very timely. We appreciate the value and essential nature of the international links that universities have. But we are sharply conscious that government and public support for this must not be taken for granted.’

Dr Vanita Shastri, Dean of Global Education and Strategic Programs at Ashoka University, India, said study abroad was increasing at her institutions.  The former entrepreneur and philanthropist said internationalisation ‘is in Ashokas DNA’. Parents want to see a return on their child’s education and the number of students going abroad is increasing.

Professor Tim Jones, Provost and Vice-Principal at the University of Birmingham, explained how his university had managed the ‘delicate balance’ between local and international but said it can’t afford to be complacent.  ‘Local and international are both at the heart of the university,’ he said. ‘Local is really important, we are an anchor institution in the second largest city in the UK.  25 per cent of our students are international from 150 countries and a third of our staff are international.  International is a big part of our strategy.’

This was echoed by Professor Pamela Dube, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Western Cape, South Africa. She revealed the phenomenal growth in international students in South Africa from 2,500 in 1994 to 75,000 at present. She said, ‘Universities see themselves as agents of change at a national level with a transformative role. Our university is about broadening access, inclusion and diversity.’ 

However, the audience heard that it hasn’t always been so straightforward. Professor Siow Heng Ong, Dean of International Affairs, Singapore Management University, Singapore explained there had been some tension when the number of international students who came to Singapore amounted to around 20 per cent of the university cohort. ‘The numbers have since come down. It’s now down to 12-15 per cent. The government looked at the numbers. It’s now fewer students but we ramped up our exchange student programmes.’