Welcoming delegates to the first Going Global conference in Europe outside of London, Steffan Krach, Berlin State Secretary for Science and Research, said in a city celebrating 30 years since the fall of the wall, a unique culture of collaboration is now one of the most defining features of the academic landscape and success as a centre of research. Opening Plenary

Going Global is the largest open conference of leaders of international education, said Rachel Launay, the Director of the British Council in Germany. 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. Opening Plenary

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. The Going Global debate

At a welcome reception held at the Radialsystem cultural centre in Berlin, Andrew Zerzan, Lead Partner and Director of Education for the British Council, welcomed delegates to the conference, and reminded them that, despite the many challenges of the digital age being debated at the event, “there is still a need for a face-to-face gathering, just like this.” 

During the reception, Professor Angela Ittel, Vice-President of the Technische Universität Berlin, introduced the Berlin University Alliance, a formal collaboration between Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Technische Universität Berlin along with Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

She 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.

Key points arising from sessions:

Opening plenary

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 Karliczwk, Federal Minister of Education and Research, Germany. 

Chris Skidmore, the UK Government Minister for Universities and Science, stressed the importance to Britain of international students. To help ensure a good experience for them, the UK government is increasing the post-study leave period, making it easier for students to move into skilled work after graduation. It is also working with Universities UK international to improve the employability of international students, both in the UK and beyond, he said.

Professor Dame Janet Beer, the President of Universities UK, the umbrella body for universities, announced that Germany through the DAAD will be the first of UUK’s international partners for its Go International Campaign. The campaign supports the UK government’s strategy for outward mobility that aims to double the percentage of full-time, first degree UK students going abroad for all or part of their courses from 7% to 13% by 2020.

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.

Find out more about Opening plenary session.

The Going Global debate: Universities must not intervene in the development or use of AI, irrespective of its potential for harm

Panel member Professor Nigel Crook, Head of the Cognitive Robotics Group, Oxford Brookes University, UK said there was a growing awareness among the public and the business sector about the ethical issues surrounding the use of AI and universities have a significant leadership role in the development and use of it. Of course universities need to be careful and think hard about what they are doing and deal with problems but AI can bring many advantages to both staff and students.

The growing use of AI in assessment was explained by Dr Rose Chesham, Director of Academic Standards and Measurement at Pearson UK, who said that it made marking more accurate because the machines learned from the most expert of markers, not the inconsistent ones. A delegate feared that the limitation on what AI could measure would dictate the shape and content of examinations in future. Another said AI could not understand irony, to which Dr Chesham replied that human examiners took a dim view of jokes they could not understand.

Find out more about The Going Global debate: Universities must not intervene in the development or use of AI, irrespective of its potential for harm session.

The Tech Transfer Experience, Warts and All

Speakers from London, Japan, Finland, Israel and Germany addressed the challenges of Technology Transfer, and how to channel valuable university research into commercial impact. King’s College London’s Benjamin Soffer said the most crucial feature of effective technology transfer was to be able to act with “speed”, something which can be a culture shock to some university decision-making bodies.

How can universities help startups? Dr Liat Tsoref – who is Director of Research & Development Collaborations and Acceleration at Biosense Webster in Israel - was previously involved in a startup called Slender Medical. She said that collaborating with Technion – Israel Institute of Technology had a significant impact on the young business. Slender’s first engineer was recruited from Technion, and it used Technion labs in its early stages. It also benefited from networks, IP advice and the boost from being associated with Technion’s “brand”.

Find out more about The Tech Transfer Experience, Warts and All session.

Can digital technologies deliver a democracy of learning in large HE systems?

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. 

Asked by a delegate how countries can respond to the problem of employers considering online distance learning to be of lower quality than traditional qualifications, Dr Suleiman Ramon-Yusuf, Director, Research, Innovation & Information Technology at the National Universities Commission in Nigeria, said this presented a paradox, because “it is in countries where it is most needed that the distance learning mode is not accepted.” 

Find out more about Can digital technologies deliver a democracy of learning in large HE systems? session.

“Within the changing landscape of international higher education, multilateral cooperation, and collaboration - what we understand now as knowledge diplomacy - are defining our institutional maps of learning, teaching and innovation.” Professor Richard Follett, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor International at the University of Sussex Can digital technologies deliver a democracy of learning in large HE systems?