Speakers at the conference included preeminent scholars such as Philip Altbach, Hans de Wit, Betty Leask, Lily Tran and Simon Marginson.
Marginson was the keynote for the morning session, addressing delegates during the Philip Altbach lecture entitled, The inevitability of difference in global higher education, addressing geopolitical tensions, global ecological concerns and decolonising curriculum.
“It’s not that the US is declining, it’s just that other countries are also internationalising”
He asserted that certain policies are deepening inequalities within some countries which inhibits widespread social mobility and argued that higher education is often being blamed. “Perhaps governments focused on employability are losing faith in the core processes of education.”
He added that simultaneously, climate science is being “ideologically undermined” and predicted it is going to get worse.
“We cannot solve geopolitical tensions, inequality, faltering capitalism, and ecological destruction solely from within higher education,” he said.
However, Marginson proffered that higher education and international educational cooperation are sources of hope. “We incubate critical thinking and creativity. We generate and codify new knowledge… We foster international understanding [and] can build a reflexive pressuring agency that’s touched by inclusion multiplicity and justice… and I think we are beginning to do so.”
Marginson shared research by the CIHE from nearly a dozen countries and indicated that common support exists for the role of higher education in “furthering public good”.
He said the American hegemony of 1945-1995 has passed and will not return. “More than 60 countries now enrol half of the young people in tertiary education,” he stated.
Marginson called for a suspension of the US hegemony in thinking and the acceptance of “the inevitability of difference”, which he said may lead to a more just future.
“It’s imperative that all engage with higher education in China,” he continued. “China is globally important to us but also, we non-Chinese people need to change the way we understand China. We need to stop seeing China through western lenses.”
Altbach, founding director of CIHE, added during a World Café session at the event, “It’s not that the US is declining, it’s just that other countries are also internationalising and are increasing branch campuses.”
The scholars concurred that internationalisation is a process of integrating international and intercultural global dynamics into higher education. However, they also warned of reinforcing the global hierarchy.
Marginson concluded, “I think in international higher education, there’s a shared moral order and a consensus about the global common good based on the quality of respect and epistemic diversity that can unite us across the colonial divide between the West and the rest.”