Matt Wright


Going Global Edinburgh: Towards sustainable, scalable and equitable partnerships in tertiary education.

It has long been recognised that tertiary education can contribute to individuals achieving their personal aspirations, to national wealth and prosperity and to tackling shared global challenges such as the Sustainable Development Goals. Nevertheless, most countries struggle with optimising their higher and further education systems for these purposes. Demand has risen and fair access is still an aspiration in most systems with entrenched disadvantage felt by lower socio-economic groups, women, disabled learners or students from certain ethnic groups or communities. There are also questions about whether tertiary education is delivering the right skills and whether the modes of delivery are sufficiently flexible and appropriate.

Over the last few decades, many countries have sought to solve their capacity challenges by sending students overseas. There are many benefits to this in addition to the opportunity to acquire skills that might not be available at home. These include giving young people international experiences, the opportunity to develop a global outlook and make connections that will support future endeavours in, for example, developing their career, businesses or contributing to society. Trends suggest that demand from students to study abroad is likely to grow and many countries aspire to be regional hubs for international education. Nevertheless, international mobility is expensive and out of reach for many students and there are early signs that some receiving systems are close to capacity. There are also concerns about the equity of the transfer of both wealth and human capital from poorer to richer countries. What can be done to make international mobility sustainable and equitable? Are we at the limits of scalability?

Many countries are seeking to increase capacity through creating more favourable environments for transnational education (TNE) and other international partnerships. There are challenges about developing sustainable funding models that benefit both the provider and recipient of TNE as well as concerns about assuring quality – particularly in relation to digital forms of delivery. But if these can be solved, the potential of international partnerships and growth in TNE provides tremendous opportunities to develop new models that are fit for different contexts and make use of new technologies to tackle long-standing problems like reaching remote communities, personalising learning and making it possible either to concentrate learning further or to learn in smaller modules over a longer period of time.

Many governments think closer system integration, for example between universities and further, technical and vocational education will increase

sustainability and equity – as well as ensure that tertiary education as a whole is meeting the needs of the labour market. Many still find engaging employers difficult, particularly in economies dominated by small and medium sized enterprises. Are there sustainable and scalable models to address this? Equally, in a society with few large employers, tertiary education may need to focus on entrepreneurial skills with universities and colleges supporting the creation of new enterprises through incubators and science parks.

In addition, rapidly evolving technologies, from digital modes of delivery to incorporating Artificial Intelligence (AI) in pedagogy, will have an impact on teaching and learning. It currently appears to be a “dual use” technology – how can we ensure it drives sustainability and equity?

Can we radically rethink international tertiary education so that it better addresses global and national challenges by fostering more equitable connections, mutual learning and understanding? What is the role of internationalisation in fostering innovation and change?

Through three sub-themes, Going Global 2023 asks:

Systems and structures

• many nations are moving towards integrating their higher and further education systems. What are the benefits and risks of this approach?

• which models of TNE help nations develop tertiary education systems that work in their culture and context – and avoid some of the identified defects in traditional models (e.g., organising subjects in silos)?

• qualification recognition is a major barrier to the formation of international partnerships and graduate employability for some professions. Governments are concerned about quality assurance of foreign providers. Are there examples of system level agreements or tools that address recognition issues effectively?

• universities have often been recognised as important for nation building and as bulwarks of civil society. What is their role in resilient and sustainable regionalisation? What can we learn from, for example, the EU and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)? How do governments manage the compromise between national ownership and accessible international systems (e.g., in research outputs, mobility platforms, security)?

Teaching and learning

• can AI be harnessed in the pursuit of equity – and how can it be prevented from entrenching inequities further?

• will micro-credentials help achieve the aspiration of flexible life-long learning available to all or will they always be second best to a qualification requiring intensive study for 3 or 4 years? What has been tried? What works?

• how can employers be brought more fully into the work of developing fit for purpose courses?

• how can we challenge sexual and gender-based violence in tertiary education?

• can we create innovative mobility platforms and exchanges that are equitable, reciprocal and affordable? How would these be financed?

• are there models that are particularly effective in increasing access to higher education and skills development for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in global society (e.g., students with disabilities, living in remote or rural communities, students who are refugees)?

Research and partnerships

• in the context of an increasingly isolationist world, how do institutional partnership models balance their commitment to local, national, regional and global contribution? How do they navigate and balance geo-political tensions and the impact of politically driven policies?

• what can governments and funders do to develop governance and reporting arrangements that are fit for purpose and support increased equity? Are there any radically different models?

• how do national innovation, science and skills policies drive or deter the development of more balanced international partnerships? Should the drivers be increased, and the barriers lessened?

• steps have been taken to make pathways into research careers accessible to different groups. What more needs to be done?

• why do we still have gender gaps in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)? What new approaches are closing these gaps?