Excerpts of India Power Talk with Jo Nesbitt director of UniConnectEd

by | Sep 29, 2020 | Video Excerpts | 0 comments

If you’re an institution and you think it would be a great idea to be part of one of these global education networks as a number of presidents have done, start up your own.”

I think we all agree that the pandemic has been a driver for change and I think a good example is the Indian government recognizing the top 100 institutions in India and their online programs.

We are all challenged with online learning. How do doctors or physiotherapists, how do people that have to do hands-on, face-to-face learning cope in a virtual environment? There’s a lot of research going on in that and there’s also the digital capacity to respond to current and future challenges in global education.

I very strongly believe that the idea of stackable qualifications will benefit from a network because you can actually then have a number of multiple world-class universities offering that kind of structure. Particularly we were talking about how the pandemic has changed the professional working conditions for the foreseeable future.

I know quality is very important, but, there are other things that the Indian government could be looking at, in that respect. On the pro side, having the top 100 institutions in the world, partnering, or having campuses in India, will actually encourage other students to come to India.

INTRO:

The global lockdown has forcibly rebooted the environment, economy and education. And when we speak of education, every form of international education is badly affected by the COVID crisis. Be it study abroad schemes or transnational collaborative programs between universities, or capacity building projects in developing countries – the majority of universities are closed and/or are delivering all education online. The new social distancing norms are affecting on-campus learning in physical spaces from the international classroom to libraries and on-campus students networking places. However, I would think this is a lifetime opportunity for global educationists to look positively on the entire education system, be it collaborations or rethinking the pedagogy.

Summary

  • The key measurables for global education networks are joint funding, winning bids, joint research publication, conferences, programs, student mobility, staff mobility, expertise to governments and non-government bodies. They work with corporates and they can actually have relationships with the media as well.

  • Global education networks want to foster an environment of mutual collaboration, support and the advancement of globally engaged citizens and they want to collaborate on effective solutions for global challenges.

  • Global education networks work across international borders and cultural boundaries. Students within these networks get something extra than they would normally do with either a bilateral or a trilateral relationship.

  • The current situation has improved everybody’s collective understanding and confidence in online learning. We really need to be thinking about learning outcomes versus the learning experience. It’s not about digitizing the learning content. We’ve got to think about student support, student engagement, student access.

  • The COVID pandemic has provided a really good environment for Presidents to come together and set up ecosystems. But you have a very good strong strategic leadership. We can draw on current bilateral partnerships or trilateral partnerships and you should always go with your strengths.

  • Having the top 100 institutions in the world, partnering, or having campuses in India, will actually encourage other students to come to India. This will promote the study in India program. Currently, there are 47,000 international students studying in India. That is only one-sixth of the number of Indians who study abroad. So if we really want to promote people coming in, then those top hundred will certainly encourage that.

There is a great opportunity to develop new forms of personalized education and to innovate in student evaluation including online, beyond the more conventional assessments. It’s a great opportunity to create flexible and unified forms of life from learning beyond initial education to upskill and re-skill workers for the digital economy. Collaborations between universities, academicians, professors, must happen to shape the future of the planet and people. There is just no choice. 

To talk on this today we have Jo Nesbitt, Director of UniConnectEd and Vice President of M Square Media, UK. With over 30 years of rich and hands-on experience in higher education, she has formerly served as a Director and Deputy Director at the University of Southampton with a focus on international recruitment and development. Earlier at Solent University she consolidated the institution’s international activities and worked as a director of the international office. She is consulted regularly for government bodies, and works with the British Council and other organizations. She has led several university consortia and has been invited as a speaker at numerous conferences. I have great pleasure and privilege to welcome Jo Nesbitt.

I request Jo to give us an overview of her experience as Director International and also some of the top global alliances of universities, their objectives and functioning that she has handled. “It’s a real pleasure to be here today and I don’t think I hold any sort of secret about my passion for internationalization in higher education,” says Jo. “I’ve been quite interested in public-private partnerships, particularly around higher education. I think that’s becoming even more pertinent now in what’s happening in the world. I’ve been very interested in lobbying and in fact I’m working now to lobby the Indian government about the new National Education policy.

“I would say that international partnerships aren’t new. I’ve been in the business for 30 years so I’ve seen a lot of that. Particularly in the late 1990s a number of global networks were set up and established. Universitas21 was set up in 1997 and they originally focused on the mobility of undergraduate students, and they foster global citizenships and encourage institutional innovation. The Worldwide University Network was the network I was involved with – 23 members across 13 countries but they were much more focused on research, developing innovative solutions to global challenges and nurturing the young researchers who can become tomorrow’s leaders. So both networks share visions around internationalisation. They want to foster an environment of mutual collaboration, support and the advancement of globally engaged citizens and they want to collaborate on effective solutions for global challenges. Universitas21 is a leading global network of research-intensive universities that empowers its members to share excellence, collaborate across borders and nurture global knowledge exchange committed to promoting the value of internationalization and multinational collaboration.”

With all that experience under her hat, I’m really curious to know how do the global universities collaborate and who drives these initiatives and what are the considerations for this uh collaborations? “In my experience, they’re typically driven from the top,” reveals Jo. “They’re typically driven with very strong strategic leadership. So it will be coming from the Vice-Chancellor or the President. And the networks tick a lot of boxes for universities and institutions. They’ll tick an education box, they’ll tick an internationalization box, they’ll tick the research box, and it raises the profile of the institutions. But, of course, this is again a kind of a ranking and how things are reported to governments. So they really do tick a lot of boxes in that respect. I think the COVID pandemic has provided a really good environment for Presidents to come together and set up ecosystems. So how do you do that? You have a very good strong strategic leadership. You can draw on current bilateral partnerships or trilateral partnerships and you should always go with your strengths. Leadership changes can greatly upset the equilibrium. Particularly if a new Vice-Chancellor or President comes in and it’s no longer a strategic objective or it doesn’t have the same goals. The other issue is that there is always a fee. So if there is finance involved in these, a subscription for membership, an institution will say or a leader will say what’s in it for my institution.

“We were saying how are partners selected. That is usually about the kind of equal ranking probably. It doesn’t necessarily have to be equal but the key is about the area of research or strength of that institution and people will be approached in that respect. Of course, if you’re an institution and you think it would be a great idea to be part of one of these networks as a number of presidents have done, start up your own. So there are a number of other kinds of networks which I haven’t talked about. There are regional networks that are very famous. APRU (1977, 55 members, 18 countries) is a premier alliance of research universities acting as an advisory body. The AAUN (2012, 12 African Research Universities and 10 Australian universities) focusses completely on partnerships between Australia and Africa. So there are various ways that you can approach global networks. They can be regional, they can be sort of subject-specific.  The key measurables are obviously joint funding, winning bids, joint research publication, conferences, programs, student mobility, staff mobility, expertise to governments and non-government bodies. They work with corporates and they can actually have relationships with the media as well.”

How do these global alliances of universities actually help students, I ask. “Universitas21 is a good example,” Jo answers. “They really invest in education but it’s more at the graduate level. They do it through a research mobility program. This is for early-career researchers. They include postgraduate, post-doctoral students against specialized experience in an international context. It also helps them professionalize their own networks. At the undergraduate level, one does have some initiatives and they bring the undergraduate students around the network and introduce them to multiple experienced universities which gives them a research experience. Universitas21 is actually a really interesting case because they have internationally focused innovation opportunities – actual and virtual – which enhance student engagement, mobility and employability and help prepare students for life. And they work across international borders and cultural boundaries. Students within these networks are going to get something extra than they would normally do with either a bilateral or a trilateral relationship. So themes in the networks are innovative teaching. This is about the researchers actually coming together in the network, talking about teaching innovation, teaching excellence, and by doing that they can significantly enhance educational standards in any of those individual universities in the network. And that doesn’t cause any threat within the network because if you look more on the research side, resources, expertise, research intelligence, it’s all a little bit dangerous to be sharing and can cause some friction. But if it’s about teaching and improving teaching and the teaching experience, then only the students will benefit from that. And nobody can argue with us doing better for our students.”

During my earlier discussions with Jo, she had mentioned the opportunities that the current pandemic would offer for global universities who are opting for online education. How did she see university alliances in future?  “I think we all agree that the pandemic has been a driver for change and I think a good example is the Indian government recognizing the top 100 institutions in India and their online programs,” says Jo. “And if you put that alongside, there’s only going to be more and more opportunities for online learning for the universities worldwide. I think the advantage of the global networks is the expertise in the world-leading areas, in specific areas. So we are talking about maritime global change, public health. If you get these universities sharing modules on master’s degrees, they’ve already been developing archives. They’ve got virtual seminars for teaching postgraduate research. They provide virtual masters classes. These networks are already delivering in that respect. An example is online masters programs, digital tools to support communication and collaboration among researchers, virtual seminars, cloud-based servers to easily share data and information. These were already in place before the pandemic and enabled partners to quickly respond when the pandemic hit and to start doing research on student learning during COVID, developing digital clinical skills and resources. That’s a really interesting one. We are all challenged with online learning. How do doctors or physiotherapists, how do people that have to do hands-on, face-to-face learning cope in a virtual environment? There’s a lot of research going on in that and there’s also the digital capacity to respond to current and future challenges in global education. What I’m trying to really stress is that global networks already have a kind of an ecosystem where they can be doing this to create new innovations. It’s going to enable these networks and partner institutions to move very quickly on new and creative methods to deliver online learning.

“I also very strongly believe that the idea of stackable qualifications will benefit from a network because you can actually then have a number of multiple world-class universities offering that kind of structure. Particularly we were talking about how the pandemic has changed the professional working conditions for the foreseeable future. How are people going to be getting their qualifications going forward? We’ve got an opportunity to recreate higher education after the pandemic. It’s not about recreating, it’s about reimagining it. The networks really are going to be a really good place to do that.”

Talking about her experiences of working in India, Jo says, “My experience was ‘Badiyaa’ (very good). My first visit was in 1996 when I was working for the University of Southampton. Later, I visited India two or three times a year during the 1990s and the 2000s. The biggest privilege of all for me was, I had a six-month sabbatical at IIT Roorkee. And in fact, if you allow me, I still have my very fond memories of working there. Like this mug that was given to me when I left. And I think what it really gave me was an opportunity to have an inside look at an Indian institution and the kind of challenges that the institutions face.”

The Indian government is keen on allowing top global institutes to be permitted to set up campuses in India, I inform Jo, and also a new education policy of 2020 recommended it.  This has not yet become law, but what’s her take? Would she recommend allowing this to happen in India? “Yes, please,” insists Jo. “I think many Indian universities have campuses overseas, so why not open up India so that others can come in. We know India needs more universities and it does actually create a competitive environment. I think that’s actually a good thing. I understand the need for quality, it’s very important but if it’s restricted to the top 100 in the world, it means there are going to be a large number of very, very good students that aren’t going to be able to get into those institutions. Also, in a university like Solent University, which is not in the top 100 and actually is a much more vocational practical institution. l wonder whether they should be considering the more vocational, practical, and good universities that can help a student with practical training. This is for the students who might want to take on more vocational roles. I know quality is very important, but, there are other things that the Indian government could be looking at, in that respect. On the pro side, having the top 100 institutions in the world, partnering, or having campuses in India, will actually encourage other students to come to India. This will promote the study in India program. Currently, I think there are 47,000 international students studying in India. And that is only one-sixth of the number of Indians who study abroad. So, you know, if you really want to promote people coming in, then those top hundred will certainly encourage that.”

Are there any examples of educational hubs worldwide, I ask Jo. “Yes, many. I think India could actually use those education hubs as frameworks. I think it’s always a great thing to come into the market sometime a little later. This way you can see how to really excel in those areas. Obviously UAE, Singapore, there’s a number of really well-established hubs now, that India could learn from.”

India has opened up the space for foreign universities, I point out. And it’s a process. It is evolving. It’s a work-in-progress. We’ll catch up as it goes. How did she see the future of global education given the disruption to technologies and convergence of a future digital economy? “Having worked in university innovations like online learning and digital technologies I know that they are very, very slow to implement,” says Jo. “But now all of these technologies have been catapulted forward, at a really breakneck speed. Universities have had to implement them just to deal with the current crisis. I think the current situation has improved everybody’s collective understanding and confidence in online learning. We really need to be thinking about learning outcomes versus the learning experience. It’s not about digitizing the learning content. We’ve got to think about student support, student engagement student access. IT underpinning it all. I don’t think face-to-face will be replaced. There will always be those students who can afford that sort of very high cost, high return kind of educational experience. I think there will be institutions, presidents, vice-chancellors, who will not be able to make a decision about this. They will want to do business as usual. They will revert to recreating business as usual. I think they will falter or fail. But there are going to be presidents who will take up the challenge and really try to think and use the crisis to explore creative ways to take their institutions forward. In the face of this kind of adversity, I think a network provides like-minded people to come together with a common kind of ambition.”

Jo is absolutely right. I guess we already know that this is a blessing in disguise. There have been a lot of experiments in education. But this COVID-19 situation has forced educationists globally to really rethink, reimagine and redesign.

About the speaker

Jo Nesbitt

Director, UniConnectEd

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