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Expert Commentary – Anna Glass

COVID-19
Education
Globalization

23 Jul 2021

  1. Generally accepted definitions describe international higher education in terms of infrastructure. Internationalization, in a sense, is physical: students or faculty go to different countries, people from different countries are included in an in-person setting. Lately though, especially with technology and online learning expanding as it has, I have seen internationalization of higher education move into the realm of perspective and thought and this is not a physical aspect that is easy to measure but it is now part of internationalization and how we perceive higher education, how we teach it. As globalization has progressed, professors and students are more overt and savvy about the fact that we are not in our own bubbles within borders, but instead: all the things we talk about, whatever we are learning, everything is interconnected. Globalization has shifted our perspectives on teaching: we are not just talking about what is going on in our own countries but about what is happening elsewhere, because that is affecting us, too. An international mindset can inform and enrich a local offering. A university might adopt an international mindset and use technology to invite international resources and interests and brains and then provide a local service that is specific to that university and community that helps that space and enriches local opportunities. I hope such ventures become more frequent and widespread. It also takes an international or global perspective to recognize, identify and teach about unique local indigenous cultures. If you are simply in it or you walk past it each day, you may not recognize what is rich and exciting and unique about a local or indigenous culture. But if you have a perspective about how it is different, what is unique about it, how this particular space was created and why it exists as it does – as a result of colonialization, as a result of globalization – and what reasons there might be to preserve it, then you know why it is important, what you are fighting against, and what is it you are trying to save. The act of identifying local and indigenous preserves is a sort of global consciousness.
  2. We don’t really know yet if trends are being set by the pandemic, but I hope they are. I hope that we don’t go back to “normal”, meaning the way we were and the way we thought before the pandemic, because they are so many problems. It has been loudly announced that the pandemic has exposed inequalities and injustices and problems within systems and access and equity. I don’t want to go back, I want to go forward. I hope that we build on the lessons of the pandemic in terms of what we can do online to open access, what we can do in person that we have been missing, and efforts we may have taken for granted until now. What added value comes from being together in a room? What added value comes from building communities online? We have learned a lot about teaching online and I find that very positive, exciting and inspiring and it might also be a bit threatening and scary for people to realize that old ways are not the only ways. I anticipate a moment of trepidation in the higher education community about what life will be like when we get back to what is called “normal”, but I hope that we don’t forget too quickly what the experience of the pandemic was like and what we learned. In the face of an emergency, we take emergency measures. When there is no emergency, we tend to avoid taking drastic steps, even when drastic steps are needed to fix real problems. Maybe it is because when there is an emergency, pretty much everyone agrees on what the problem is. When there is no emergency, we often get bogged down in debate – not just about solutions, but about our problems. What is a problem for some is an advantage to others, so it is hard to delineate. This pandemic made many inequalities starkly clear. My hope is that this clarity does not get washed away amid our relief that we can go around maskless again.

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