Session highlights

Global partnerships have served very well those already privileged at the expense of those already disadvantaged. The challenge is enacting ethical global partnerships,” Dr Mia Perry, senior lecturer, school of education, University of Glasgow 

  • To what extent are International HEI partnerships in a post-pandemic and vulnerable world politically, ethically and culturally loaded? While “partnerships for the goals” is a named priority in the UN SDGs, the colonial history of HE in some countries means western epistemologies and aims are dominant, a session heard. In such a world, it is easy to talk about ethical global partnerships but hard to achieve them because of entrenched systems and practices. Priorities for western universities, such as rankings and selectivity, override concerns about equality, according to Professor Rob Tierney, Dean Emeritus of Education at the University of British Columbia.
  • Dr Mia Perry, senior lecturer, school of education, at Glasgow University, described how a Master’s student from Uganda had pointed out that the resources used to support his masters could have benefited a larger number of people in Uganda - prompting new thinking at the university about how to distribute its opportunities. Dr Perry said it raised the question of why the resource was modelled as it was and who was benefitting from it. It also brought about reflection on how useful a UK masters from the UK was in the different social and practical context that students from the global south are returning to. 

Session summary

Within the UN Sustainable Development Goals, ‘Partnerships for the Goals’ is a named priority (SDG 17) seen to bind the 17 goals together. The United Nations propose that the 2030 Agenda, including the 17 SDGs, encapsulate ‘a call for a new collaborative way of working’. However, within that framework, and indeed within the goal targets and indicators, the role of the higher education institution (HEI) is opaque. With a focus on global trade, policy cohesion, technologies, and public-private partnerships, the implied assumption within the targets of SDG 17 is that partnerships within academic research and teaching practice are taken for granted, or benign. This session makes the bold proposition that this is far from the case. International HEI partnerships in a post-pandemic and vulnerable world are critical, but also politically, ethically and culturally loaded.

The world has always been connected, but human-led partnerships have underpinned the long-standing dynamics of the globe that cause people in the Global South to benefit least from higher education, and to suffer disproportionately to multi-dimensional climate vulnerability. In international contexts, partnership is neither a benign nor inherently positive term or practice; indeed, it is culturally, politically, and ethically loaded, and at the same time it is a fundamental component of all sustainability development. Partnerships and relationships not only determine the design and implementation of research and teaching in HE, but the outcomes and impacts.

The objective of this session is to pursue the question: Why and how should our practices and institutions adapt to the urgent need for a new approach to engagement, relationship, and partnership in international relations for a sustainable post-pandemic world?

This session includes contributions from high level educational leaders, innovative researchers, an INGO leader and national advisor in sustainability, and graduate students. The session will be chaired by the Vice Principal External Relations at University of Glasgow, and the interactive participant input will be designed and facilitated by an international expert in communications design and learning solutions, Prof Lisa Grocott, Monash University. Spanning Europe, Africa, North America and Australia, the panel bring expertise in higher educational leadership, literacies, design, environmental sustainability and development studies. Through interactive and multi-modal dialogue, this session will explore not only what ethical partnerships look like, and why they matter, but also the challenges inherent in them.


  • Ms Rachel Sandison, Vice-Principal, External Relations, University of Glasgow, UK
  • Dr Mia Perry, Senior Lecturer in Literacies, Arts and Sustainability, University of Glasgow, UK
  • Mr Reagan Kandole, Master's student, Uganda
  • Professor Rob Tierney, Dean Emeritus of Education, University of British Columbia, Canada
  • Dr Priscilla Mbarumun Achakpa, Global President/Special Adviser, Women Environmental Programme/Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria
  • Professor Lisa Grocott, Director of WonderLab, Monash University, Australia