An international university in a global world

The internationalisation of research and higher education has recently taken on new dimensions.

Internationalisation is a term that has been used frequently during the past 15 years and often refers to mobility, the ease with which students, teachers, researchers and other personnel move — that is, changing a country of residence and country of activity for a period. This can involve being a student, engaging in a field study or participating as a trainee. Perhaps it means instructing as a guest teacher, participating in joint education projects, collaborating on new courses and programmes, conducting research, conducting field studies, collecting data or participating in conferences.

 ALL OF THIS IS GOOD, necessary, a prerequisite for an organisation’s development and quality. But internationalisation is so much more than this, and above all, it is so much more than tallying incoming and outgoing students or teachers.

 IN REALITY, IT IS more appropriate to talk about globalisation. Globalisation is a larger societal and historical transformative process through which boundaries are becoming less and less important. Economic, political, social and cultural processes have increasingly transcended boundaries in recent decades. To an ever-greater extent, we are all in this together and we are becoming increasingly dependent on one another.

Research and higher education should also serve as transcendent processes and national boundaries should not be barriers. For research, this is natural. For higher education, however, certain barriers still remain in the form of different systems, academic terms and so on.

GLOBALISATION WITHIN universities and higher education is also increasingly based on an active desire to support efforts to solve major societal problems and challenges, such as climate changes, food crises and global health problems like pandemics, energy shortages and security issues. For the University of Gothenburg, this is manifested in values focused strongly on global involvement and social responsibility, as formulated and expressed in Vision 2020. UGOT Challenges, interdisciplinary research focused on global societal challenges, is a concrete example of how these issues are being addressed in earnest as part of the university’s strategic objectives and long-term visions.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE is the northern European node for the UN initiative known as Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which is aimed at promoting solutions for sustainability through joint efforts on the part of academia, public policy and industry. The University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology serve as joint hosts for this node through Gothenburg’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability.

A THIRD EXAMPLE and, since the autumn of 2015, perhaps the most obvious one is involvement in the refugee crisis. By the middle of 2015, close to 60 million people had fled war, violence, terror and persecutions. The primary cause was the civil war in Syria, but Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea also are common countries of origin for asylum seekers. Globalisation also contributes to migration processes increasing. The number of asylum seekers heading to Sweden increased sharply during 2015, followed by a decrease in 2016 as a result of political measures in Sweden and other EU countries.

MANY OF THE PEOPLE who find themselves refugees have academic backgrounds; many are the age of university students or have interrupted their studies. These young people represent potential future human capital. They are young, gifted and ambitious people who are motivated and talented. These are the people who one day will be faced with the job of rebuilding Syria. An educated labour force will be needed, as well as people who, through their academic studies, have been trained in self-reliance and reflective analytical thought. Education is a decisive factor for the future of Syria and other war-torn countries.

Helena Lindholm is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Gothenburg

Helena Lindholm is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Gothenburg

KNOWLEDGE AND RESEARCH are needed to cope with the current situation. Research results must be disseminated and put to good use. Increased collaboration is needed both within higher education and within other public agencies active in the area.

INTEGRATION AND SEGREGATION issues affect student groupings, and there is a need to strengthen educational aspects such as democracy, human rights, openness, respect and norm-critical approaches.

AT THE UNIVERSITY OF GOTHENBURG, a number of initiatives are already on-going and aimed at finding the best way to confront the situation and other activities are planned or under consideration. Many of these initiatives deal with the best way to help asylum seekers and new arrivals integrate and become established and to make it easier for them to learn about educational opportunities and the educational system. Others also offer trainee positions and increase the visibility of the university’s research. The Faculty of Science has shown great commitment to these causes and is by far the faculty that has offered the most trainee positions.

/Helena Lindholm