Participants sitting in the plenary hall in front of the stage at Going Global 2023

Key takeaways from day three of the conference

Closing Plenary

Moses Anibaba, the Regional Director of Sub-Sahara in his opening of the final session of the 2023 Edinburgh conference announced next year’s Going Global conference in 2024 will be held in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Economic Forum over 60 per cent of Africa’s population is under 25 and by 2050 young Africans are anticipated to make up around 42 per cent of the global youth demographic. So, the future of education needs to be co-created with the youth, he said.

Interviewed by celebrated journalist Lukwesa Burak, a panel of young Africans on stage in Edinburgh talked of how they had forged successful and modern careers despite wrong turns along the way by choosing or being forced to study what for them were the wrong subjects. Aloysious Tumusiime, a post-graduate student at LSE, London, said he failed at school in Uganda because he was forced to study science subjects. He ran away from home to the city and worked long hours as a grinder in a plastics factory to save money for a different type of education and went on to win a scholarship.

Professor Kevin Ibeh, Pro-Vice Chancellor (International) at Birkbeck University, UK, on the panel, remarked on the need to have young people present to share their experiences as they are ‘more active in the classrooms through co-creation of knowledge. He added ‘the tradition of putting the teacher on a pedestal needs to change so that students can participate in their learning’. The challenge for higher education is thus to create the environment to encourage this, he added.  

Tope Sanni, Head of Operations, Pawstudios, Africa, noted secondary school teachers and people from industry need to be included in discussions about the changes in higher education. Students were ‘put into boxes’ in secondary education and there needed to be a focus on the student’s interests much earlier. Moses Anibaba agreed and promised to include schoolteachers and people from business and industry in sessions in Going Global 2024.

Young students in Africa spoke in a video about the mismatch between the traditional education curricula and the interests of today’s youth, for example, in the creative industries and entrepreneurship. Because of that, students were making the wrong choice of what to study and were left struggling to change careers later.

In her closing address Maddalaine Ansell, the British Council’s Director of Education, said it had been ‘truly wonderful’ to have the opportunity to meet face-to-face and spend time with experts from across the world talking about pressing issues. Adding that ‘technology is a wonderful thing and it helped us during the Covid pandemic but people are still wired to best engage in person.’

Widening access: pursuing equity: a shared global challenge

Chairing the session Professor Graeme Atherton, Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (Neon), University of West London, warned the goal set by UNESCO for there to be equal access to tertiary education by all men and women by 2030 was a long way from being achieved. Research from Neon found that in 90 per cent of countries around the world, access to higher education is inequitable by social background. Commitment from policymakers to this agenda is also variable. Another study found that out of 110 countries, fewer than a fifth had a specific strategy to address inequities and inequalities in higher education.

The Mexican government has set priorities in education for expanded access and reducing drop-out rates in upper secondary schools and higher education. Dra Blanca Heredia, CEO of Grupo TalentumMX, Mexico, said there have been efforts to achieve these goals through rapid expansion of the higher education system and scholarships for underprivileged students. This has been achieved through reshuffling the education budget, reducing resources for institutions and redirecting the money towards supporting students. She cited the success of one Excellence and Equity programme set up by a high-level public research institution which identified mobility, access to computers, and English language as the three key factors influencing access. It led to a change in intakes from 80 per cent coming from elite high schools in Mexico City, to half coming from public high schools and half coming from the rest of the country.

While Malaysia appears to have made ‘commendable strides’ forward in educational access, there are still underlying disparities in tertiary education where there are pronounced urban, rural, and socioeconomic divides, said Dr Elizabeth Lee, CEO Sunway Education Group, Malaysia. This was brought into sharp relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was discovered that nearly 37 per cent of students in Malaysia lacked either appropriate devices or internet access, underscoring the urgency of bridging the digital divide.

High levels of educational attainment and entry into higher education in Northern Ireland hide some severe disparities, such as the country having the highest proportion of 17 to 24-year-olds in any part of the UK leaving secondary school with no qualifications at all, said Catriona McCarthy, Director of Global Engagement, International Admissions & the Compliance Team at Ulster University. A national education plan that gives specific focus to widening participation for Northern Ireland seeks to address the issues, for example by calling for degree-level offerings to be embedded within rural further education colleges so that students can have greater access to HE irrespective of where they live. At her own institution, accessible short-term international experiences for widening access students have been created, leading to 40 per cent of outward student mobilities programmes this year being undertaken by students from a widening access background.

Progress has been made in Scotland against a key recommendation from the country’s Commission for Widening Access, setting a target that by 2030, students from the 20 per cent most deprived backgrounds should represent 20 per cent of entrants to higher education, according to Professor John McKendrick, the Commissioner for Fair Access in Scotland. Contextualised admissions, well-established and developing articulation pathways so students can move from further education into higher education, and a widening access programme for mature adults, have all played a part in increasing entry levels from the most deprived backgrounds from 14 per cent to 16.5 per cent. But he admitted progress has stalled, 'so there is much more work to be done'.

In breakout table discussions delegates considered five questions around widening access to higher education: on enabling exchange of knowledge and practice; commitment from policymakers; student mobility; sharing and scaling up access practices; and improving data on inequalities. Participants at one table worried that efforts to widen access will not work unless prospective students are properly supported financially. At another table there were concerns about ensuring quality and that support and curricula are fit for purpose for students from deprived backgrounds. Some government policies in different countries are more helpful than others, delegates observed. A third table considered the impact of academic language used in universities that could present barriers; and also the mode of instruction and relatability of content to the lives of widening access students.

Universities, AI and the Global Good

Chairing the session Professor Rajani Naidoo asked  what opportunities does AI present, and how can we protect ourselves from the risks and dangers?  She drew together a panel with  expertise in education, research and leadership  from the UK, Kenya, Greece and Mexico to discuss how AI is being used , and where it could assist in future.

Heidi Fraser-Krass, CEO of UK digital and data services agency Jisc, talked about their study talking to students about their thoughts on AI. In the research - which was carried out alongside the University of Manchester - students said they mainly used AI to assist with writing, and adapting content to different forms. But they expressed concerns about data privacy and possible over-reliance on the technology, and wanted to discuss regulation and learn how AI was generating its content.

Professor Neil Hernández-Gress, Director for Research, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico, said that his institution was exploring the potential of using data to create tools for recommendations, guiding undergraduates and researchers on how to advance and develop. He added that these kinds of projects were currently in the research phase at his institution.

Dr Christos Ntanos, Research Director at the National Technical University of Athens, Greece, addressed the benefits and challenges associated with using AI in researching, diagnosing, managing, and treating complex brain disorders. He also explored the ethical implications of these technologies from the perspectives of both clinicians and researchers, as well as from that of patients, discussing issues such as privacy, job security, and liability. Looking ahead, he emphasised that transparent, interpretable, and explainable AI will be crucial in paving the way for a more ethical and equitable implementation of these groundbreaking technologies.

Joy Owango, Executive Director of the Training Centre in Communication in Kenya, discussed the value of AI and data in potentially raising the profile of research in Africa and the Global South. Research and patents from those regions are often less visible compared to better-resourced counterparts, but she noted the value of adding Persistent Identifiers to stored files to help people find this research and boost its visibility. She said it was a good opportunity to protect indigenous knowledge and culture and demonstrate its contribution to the field of international research.

Can we build new models of collaborative science partnerships to deliver the SDGs

Countries around the world have been working for the last eight years to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. But what can be done to encourage partnerships and more impactful work? A panel of representatives from Japan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Brazil discussed these issues and potential ideas.

Panel chair Nikki Stoddart, the Deputy Director for Education, Gender, and Equalities at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, began by noting that the UK had released a white paper on international development earlier this week. She added that only 15 per cent of the SDGs are on track for delivery by 2030 and that it was ‘critical’ for the world to adapt to deliver the others.

Professor Christina Wong, Director of Research and Innovation at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Research and Innovation Office, said that there was a need to be more creative in how collaborations are supported. She suggested that some partnerships end up ‘one-sided’ due to a lack of support and funding, and called for more focus on how collaborations could encourage equal contribution and an equal share of research outputs.

Professor Dr Arif Satria, Rector of the Institute Pertanian Bogor in Indonesia, shared some examples of Indonesia’s work in tackling the SDGs. He stressed the importance of empowering farmers, fishermen, and businesses so that they can deliver quality produce and meet standards. He noted that academics are being trained to present their work in an accessible way to businesses and communities and that some faculty members are even encouraged to visit villages - such as their own hometowns - to discuss innovations.

Marcio de Castro Silva, Scientific Director of FAPESP in Brazil, said there was a need to foster more trans-disciplinary research to tackle the SDGs, since many of them require expertise from many different areas. He also welcomed a comment from a delegate about rethinking how we calculate international rankings. He gave an example of the University of Sao Paulo, which has a hospital on campus that treats many patients, but this activity is not reflected in rankings.

Professor Toshiya Ueki, Executive Vice-President of Tohoku University in Japan, advocated far greater use of consortium approaches to address certain challenges, as opposed to more bilateral models. He said this would offer more scope to hear different perspectives and consider a greater variety of approaches.

International student mobility: a critical look at motivations and impacts

International student mobility helps to build trust and long-term relations between countries, according to a recent study by the British Council, but what are the other benefits for students and institutions?  According to Anne-Marie Graham, the Chief Executive of UKCISA, students have a range of motivations for going abroad to study, but one real driver is employment prospects and career development.

Despite this universities in the UK are not collecting qualitative data around what our international students go on to do when they graduate. Career development is always going to be a core motivation and it is something we should think about measuring, she added.

Professor Pradeep Misra, Director of the National Institute of Education, Planning and Administration, India, said 1.3 million of India’s 41.4 million students go abroad, most often to better their job prospects either at home when they return or overseas. Now India is seeking to attract international students following recommendations in the country's 2020 National Education Policy.

Lucy Everest, Global Chief Operating Officer at Heriot-Watt University, UK, stressed the importance of not losing sight of positives such as the fact that long-standing and strategic partnerships between universities in the UK and those abroad could override Government shifts and changes in policy.