More than 950 leaders in higher education, business and government attended the British Council’s 13th annual Going Global conference, taking place in Berlin from the 13th to the 15th May 2019. Over 85 countries are represented by delegates, including vice-chancellors, pro vice-chancellors, and government ministers.

Conference theme

Knowledge diplomacy and the digital world: does international tertiary education have a role?

As the digital world transforms our society, it brings both immense opportunities and significant risks. New technologies and platforms are revolutionising the way that knowledge is produced, accessed and used globally. Solutions to many of the world’s greatest challenges are increasingly within reach. The speed and scale of change is also disrupting labour markets and business models, radically changing the nature of jobs and the skills required. While technologies are creating huge opportunities and wealth for some, many more remain excluded, deepening inequality and polarising societies.  

Historically, international tertiary education has fulfilled a unique position as a global knowledge producer, developer of high level skills and powerful anchor in local and global society. In a radically different future world, however, how relevant will it be and what contribution can it make? 


With this year’s Going Global taking place at a significant time for the sector, the conference opening remarks highlighted the message that education is international in outlook and values, with the desire to preserve and develop important relationships being paramount. Sir Ciarán Devane, the British Council’s Chief Executive, said the annual conference is where people helping to solve the problems of the world got together because no single country could do it alone. 

Delegates raised concerns that students could become too dependent on technology and lose their independence and ability to solve day to day problems or organise their lives, in a Going Global debate focussing on artificial intelligence. Others were concerned that artificial intelligence was being inappropriately used to help assess students’ mental health and wellbeing and offer advice. 

During the reception, Professor Angela Ittel, Vice-President of the Technische Universität Berlin, said that at a time when the spirit of global and border-crossing interconnectivity and the thought of internationality is threatened by political movements, “the support of global thought leadership and knowledge exchange becomes even more important every day”. In these circumstances, universities needed to connect and establish even stronger networks, moving beyond bilateral agreements and student exchanges.

In this ever-changing world there are always new possibilities. Knowledge is the only resource that multiplies when it is used and that offers us a great opportunity for peaceful co-existence and for a prosperous life. Anja Karliczek, Federal Minister of Education and Research, Germany. 

Keynote speaker James Bridle, the UK artist and writer from both a computer and humanities background, spoke of the modern day alienation that people feel, living inside the bounds of a technology that is beyond their comprehension. Most people could explain how postal service works, but if you ask them how emails are delivered, that is a different matter, he said.

In a session that considered both the potential for countries with large higher education systems to reboot learning through technology and online delivery, and the challenges that this presents, Dr Renato H L Pedrosa, Associate Professor at the University of Campinas, Brazil, said in his country cost considerations meant distance learning was growing exponentially, accounting for over a third of freshman students. But the big challenge was that only 3% of research-intensive public universities were involved in distance learning, raising questions over quality. 

The latest in the British Council’s shape of global higher education research series was presented. This research provides a unique framework for policymakers to compare and benchmark the level of national support for international engagement in HE. This latest research shows a positive relationship between the inbound student mobility rate and the wealth of a country, as measured by GDP per capita.

Delegates were asked to consider whether knowledge is the new diplomacy. Professor Jane Knight, an Adjunct Professor of Education at the University of Toronto, Canada, sought to provide an answer, with practical examples, in her research report commissioned by the British Council, Knowledge Diplomacy in Action.

The findings of a new British Council study on digital globalisation of knowledge, comparing its impact in South Asia and EU, found that while Europe is “further along the curve” in some ways, it can learn from South Asia as far as passion, energy and commitment is concerned, said Stuart McDonald, Founder-Director, International Culture Relations, UK. Access to digital higher education has to be equitable to ensure the maximum opportunity for participation in society and the economy of the future. There are anxieties that the impact on societies will be to widen educational, economic and digital divides, the report warns.

Drawing on examples of partnerships in eight European cities, the report Smart places – how universities are shaping a new wave of smart cities, discusses how universities can help solve the challenges faced by cities and towns. University College London Cities Researcher James Ransom said that universities were in a unique position to work “between the top-down and bottom-up initiatives” taking place in cities, and reduce the risk of “Frankenstein Urbanism” – in which many individual initiatives exist without joining up. However, he warned that if universities fail to constantly focus on inclusion, and don’t understand the limitations of technology, “they can end up making issues of inclusion worse”.

As Going Global 2019 drew to a close it was the turn of graduates in the early stages of their careers to give their assessment of the role of universities in this new digital age. Higher education should make more effort to reach the disadvantaged groups of society, be more multidisciplinary, less risk averse and more open in terms of research and knowledge exchange, they said.

Session resources

All presentation slides are available via Slideshare

View an archive of the Going Global 2019 LIVE wall.

If you are interested in any other session resource, audio file or video, please get in touch with our team.