Thursday 3 May 2018

Delegates were reminded to take education and science “out of the ivory tower” at the Going Global session 'Diplomacy and international relations: the role of education'. 

Knowledge diplomacy was described as focusing on the role of higher education and research in strengthening relations between and among countries, to “help address the pressing global issues facing our planet which can’t be addressed by the knowledge and resources of one country alone.”

“To be relevant and to be of use, academia has to go out of our ivory tower and connect,” said Professor Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Founding Chair, United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity.

He was one of four panellists discussing knowledge and educational diplomacy at a break-out session chaired by Professor Jo Beall, Director Education and Society, and Executive Board Member, British Council.

“The deliverers of cultural diplomacy are not only academic but a group comprising academia, diplomats, government officials, corporate sector, and civil society,” Professor Zakri said. 

These groups worked together to help shape decisions that could have massive impact on the world, including informing conventions, agreements and protocols around climate change, health, water, energy, and security. It was the job of academia not to provide advice but to present facts and options which could be considered by policy-makers. 

“If the knowledge generators and holders at universities don’t come forward, the world will be losing a lot because we wouldn’t have the scientific knowledge base. That’s why I say academia is a key component of knowledge diplomacy,” he said. 

Another panellist, Christian Müller, Director of Strategy, DAAD Germany, said a cross-border approach to research and shared practice was important for ensuring peace and stability, and countering current nationalistic and isolationist trends. 

“What I really appreciate about this approach is it’s putting as much of a value on multi-lateral cooperation and trying to balance the different interests which are obviously at play,” he said. 

Knowledge diplomacy was more than just managing international relations, said panellist Dr Kavita Sharma, President, South Asian University, India. 

Power dynamics came in to play which meant elements of money, trade, national interests and other factors relating to countries’ global aspirations.

“So it has to be a consciousness which brings young people together and educates them so that there is a better tomorrow for everybody,” she said. 

The biggest challenge of running a regional university was how to stop the state from bringing in its own agenda. 

“Don’t bring the geo-politics into the university which causes major tightrope walking. Other issues are about how to get over these restrictive facilities of connectivity and transport and for individuals there are visa issues which can be very difficult to get over.

“But given the chance we will create young non-state actors who will be the futures of tomorrow and help change the state paradigms and also change our mind-sets towards education diplomacy.”

Panellist Professor Abdelhamid El-Zohelry, President, Euro-Mediterranean University, Slovenia, said the best way to brand knowledge diplomacy was to do so retrospectively.

“When they really achieve the goals of the people of two institutions, two regions or two countries and the public feel their impact, then we call this a knowledge or a science diplomacy initiative,” he said. 

“Don’t overuse or abuse the word and label anything that is international cooperation as knowledge diplomacy.”

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