“We are all here today because we believe in inclusive and sustainable growth,” said Banchong Mahaisavariya, president of Mahidol University. as he addressed APAIE 2023 delegates during the opening plenary session.
To achieve such growth, international education is a key driver, Mahaisavariya said, emphasizing “a sense of care and a sense of ownership for the peace, prosperity and sustainability of our international education community.”
Conference theme Towards a sustainable future for international education in Asia and the Pacific inspired different interpretations and perspectives on the five-day event.
For Mahaisavariyah, sustainability means building a community that is “people-centric” and one that “leaves no one behind and looks to the future.”
“For some of us, personal and professional sustainability has become a necessarily primary focus in recent years as we face unprecedented challenges as a global, international education community, as well as in our own lives and institutions,” said Sarah Todd, APAIE President and Vice President, Global, Griffith University.
Todd emphasized the importance of using the conference to share best practices and explore ways to ensure environmental sustainability remains a key priority, as well as discuss ways to contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“Part of international engagement is persuasion”
Such efforts include a relationship to sustainable communities, inclusive and just societies, access to quality education, decent jobs and economic growth, as well as environmental impact mitigation and partnerships for impact, Todd said.
APAIE itself signed the CANIE agreement – designed to strengthen and accelerate the sector’s commitment to climate action – in late 2022.
A recurring theme throughout the conference was how to create and maintain sustainable partnerships, including a debate about whether institutions need already established and aligned values to succeed together.
For Lavern Samuels, President of IEASA and Director of International Education and Partnerships, Durban University of Technology, it is “definitely easier” if there are shared values, but it is not a “deal breaker”.
“Part of international engagement is persuasion, change and transformation through our engagement, so to have a partner that is open to deepening their sustainability footprint, I think it would be enough for us to engage with them and there’s a lot we can do,” he said Samuels.
Speakers at the Global Dialogue panel emphasized the importance of considering diversity across regions and how that can impact partnerships, with LaNitra Berger, NAFSA president and board chair, noting that there are many different views on the spectrum of environmental sustainability in the United States.
Climate change may affect the mental health of international students, but it remains a “politically complex” issue in the U.S., we hear from LaNitra Berger, president, @NAFSA during @apaieofficial global dialog box. #APAIE2023 pic.twitter.com/GgwB4KRpiA
— The PIE News (@ThePIENews) March 16, 2023
“You have institutions in different regions of the country where people are heavily investing in environmental sustainability and building partnerships in other places where sustainability is a priority,” Berger said.
“And then you have other regions where they may not even believe climate change is a thing, and so there’s much less of a political framework to support institutions that care about the environment.”
“I think we also have to be careful that we don’t just want to partner with institutions like us, but that we should really partner for the different perspectives and the different needs that they bring,” Todd said.
Jennifer Bahen, Education and Research Advisor at the Australian Embassy in Vietnam, would like to see a future supported by greater systems alignment and connectivity.
“Our future is something we create in partnership rather than a future we want to create alone,” she said.
International student and post-pandemic resilience in the wider sector was discussed, along with the extent to which it is the institution’s responsibility to manage expectations and ensure that international students have a deep cultural awareness of their host country.
Discomfort is part of the international experience, but student well-being should never be compromised, the audience heard from Samuels.
“I believe that international education should not be the ultimate school for the elite,” Berger continued.
“It should be an instrument of social change. Part of this social change comes from letting go of what is familiar and comfortable.”
“It’s about balance,” added Todd, who shared personal anecdotes about her own international education experience as a student in Japan, where she said there was little cultural adjustment, resulting in a “transformational” experience.
The APAIE 2024 conference will be held in Perth, Australia.