In 2021 the 23rd annual conference was held online from 25 to 27 August 2021, under the theme: Internationalisation, Inclusion and Social Justice – Towards a Fairer World.

The 23rd annual IEASA conference brought together leaders, experts, researchers, educators, academics, practitioners, students and innovators interested in international higher education who shared thoughts, research findings, lived experiences and best practice examples. Sessions and poster presentations at the conference offered a wide variety of engagements and discussions, such as:

  • Reimagining, reframing and redefining higher education internationalisation and international collaborations and partnerships that genuinely promote social justice and inclusion for all;
  • Critical engagement about the need to decolonise internationalisation in South Africa;
  • New approaches to internationalisation in South Africa that would see more engagement and collaboration between country’s higher education institutions;
    Engagement on whether virtual mobility can lead to more inclusion in internationalisation;
    Funding opportunities for internationalisation and international collaboration;
  • Student perspectives on internationalisation, inclusion and social justice in South Africa and beyond.

The link to the conference programme may be found here: https://ieasa-conference.studysa.org/programme/

Dr Chasi also wrote an article entitled “Can internationalization promote inclusion, social justice” as scene setter for the 2021 IEASA Conference in the University World News Africa Edition, 22 July 2021. The article is available at: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20210720122624741.

During the first two days of the conference, we saw senior panel discussions and many excellent parallels sessions. As is the norm for IEASA Conferences, the level of engagement was world class with inputs from the national Internationalisation sector and members of our sister organisations globally.

We included some members reflections on specific aspects of the conference below:

Decolonising the Human: Reflections from Africa on Difference and Oppression

The 23rd annual IEASA conference hosted a book discussion about the book Decolonising the Human: Reflections from Africa on Difference and Oppression with book editors, Dr William Mpofu and Prof Melissa Steyn, and one of the chapter authors, Prof Morgan Ndlovu. Decolonising the Human is an important transdisciplinary book that offers perspectives on colonialism, colonially, decolonisation and the idea of ‘the human’ in a highly complex, unequal and unjust world. As the 2021 IEASA conference focused on internationalisation practices, approaches, definitions, challenges and new possibilities in the quest for a fairer world, this book is an excellent reference as we begin to think critically how internationalisation and higher education in South Africa and elsewhere need to transform in order to meaningfully contribute to inclusion and social justice for a fairer world.

The 23rd annual IEASA conference hosted a book discussion about the book Decolonising the Human: Reflections from Africa on Difference and Oppression with book editors, Dr William Mpofu and Prof Melissa Steyn, and one of the chapter authors, Prof Morgan Ndlovu. Decolonising the Human is an important transdisciplinary book that offers perspectives on colonialism, colonially, decolonisation and the idea of ‘the human’ in a highly complex, unequal and unjust world. As the 2021 IEASA conference focused on internationalisation practices, approaches, definitions, challenges and new possibilities in the quest for a fairer world, this book is an excellent reference as we begin to think critically how internationalisation and higher education in South Africa and elsewhere need to transform in order to meaningfully contribute to inclusion and social justice for a fairer world.

University World News published an article about the book discussion. 

Book on decolonisation reflects on difference, oppression. By Wachira Kigotho, University World News, 02 September 2021. Link: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20210831141812739

Rethinking and redefining internationalisation of higher education in South Africa

Dr Savo Heleta

During the 23rd annual IEASA conference, Dr Samia Chasi and Dr Savo Heleta presented a session on rethinking internationalisation of higher education in South Africa. This session responded to IEASA’s call to reimagine and redefine higher education internationalisation in the context of the global South. The session tackled the Northern hegemony from the South African perspective and with particular reference to how the concept of internationalisation is generally understood. The presenters argued that in the South African context, both in reference to the country’s history of colonialism and apartheid as well as to contemporary issues of inequality, exclusion, coloniality and racism, the dominant Western definitions do not adequately reflect the realities, needs and conditions of internationalisation at the country’s universities. It requires further unpacking, reimagining and reorientation. As part of the presentation, Dr Chasi and Dr Heleta presented their own working definition of internationalisation in South Africa. This definition is still work in progress, and they are finalising a paper that will provide detailed background and justification for their proposed definition. 

During the 23rd annual IEASA conference, Dr Samia Chasi and Dr Savo Heleta presented a session on rethinking internationalisation of higher education in South Africa. This session responded to IEASA’s call to reimagine and redefine higher education internationalisation in the context of the global South. The session tackled the Northern hegemony from the South African perspective and with particular reference to how the concept of internationalisation is generally understood. The presenters argued that in the South African context, both in reference to the country’s history of colonialism and apartheid as well as to contemporary issues of inequality, exclusion, coloniality and racism, the dominant Western definitions do not adequately reflect the realities, needs and conditions of internationalisation at the country’s universities. It requires further unpacking, reimagining and reorientation. As part of the presentation, Dr Chasi and Dr Heleta presented their own working definition of internationalisation in South Africa. This definition is still work in progress, and they are finalising a paper that will provide detailed background and justification for their proposed definition. 

This session was mentioned in University World News article about the conference: 

Internationalisation has to promote inclusion, social justice. By Wachira Kigotho, University World News, 26 August 2021. Link: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20210825182327702 

Student Roundtable on Internationalisation, Inclusion and Social Justice towards a fairer world.

Dingaan Booi

Day two of the 23rd annual IEASA conference opened with a Student Roundtable Discussion. The discussion was themed Internationalisation, Inclusion and Social Justice – Towards a Fairer World. The chair of the session, Mr Jerome September, the Director of Student Affairs, the University of the Witwatersrand, started by introducing the panellists and contextualising the discussion. The panel consisted of; Buntu Mnyaka representing Nelson Mandela University, Taonga Phiri representing Rhodes University, Simone Thomas representing the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Mats’olo Seloanyane representing the University of the Witwatersrand. The discussion panel had a good mix of local and international students ranging from undergraduate to PhD level.    

Mr Mnyaka started this discussion and mainly dealt with the following key issues: Potential vs Excellence; what does Internationalisation mean to the ordinary student? What type of global society do we want to create? The speaker went on to probe the meaning of opportunity and access in the context of inclusion and creating a fairer world. The speaker mentioned that they would engage in the practical application of the philosophy of Ubuntu. Mr Mnyaka was asserting that Internationalisation should be viewed through the lens of Ubuntu.

Ms Phiri spoke from a student leader perspective. The speaker acknowledged that the definition of Internationalisation contained an element of multiculturalism. The speaker used the Rhodes University model as a point of reference to discuss the topic. The speaker raised the issue of student apathy within Rhodes context towards projects that promoted Internationalisation and an unwillingness by the student bodies to engage with platforms organised by student leaders. The speaker critiqued the university’s role in contributing towards student apathy and argued that the University authority needed to take a leading role in pushing Internationalisation in the same way that research, teaching and learning, and community engagement are prioritised. Ms Phiri stated that the student body had not understood the role and function of the International Office within the Rhodes University model. They argued that there is a need to focus first on Internationalisation at home and then the external-facing aspects at a student body level. They went on to say that local students had a role to play in Internationalisation, stating that Internationalisation was a group project and not just for international students. Local students and international students have a role to play so that everyone is held accountable for Internationalisation.

Ms Thomas was the third speaker and stated that currently, the word diversity is a buzzword. The speaker highlighted that global organisations have diversity clauses or diversity policies but questioned whether these are implemented. The speaker also raised that an element of Internationalisation involved access. They used personal lived experiences to illustrate how access to university was a challenge. They agreed with the second speaker that Internationalisation was indeed a group effort. In their conclusion, the speaker stated that at the heart of social justice and inclusion was a sense of belonging. Ms Thomas concluded with an analogy that ‘diversity is inviting someone to the dance, whereas inclusion allows them to dance their dance and to their beat’.  

Ms Seloanyane spoke about the challenges faced by international students. She highlighted how the COVID pandemic exposed that international students face difficulties that are vastly different to those of local students, including but not limited to how the Universities prioritised local students over international students. They mentioned that international students faced difficulty with the Study Permit process and noted how being an international student in South Africa was a lonely experience. Further stating that there was a lack of support from the Universities. The speaker spoke about the need for Universities to play a more supportive role in assisting international students looking at a bottom-up approach, where decision-makers are aware and in touch with the reality ‘on the ground’.

Mr September then facilitated a broader discussion based on the inputs given. During this discussion segment, it was raised that there was a need to discuss ‘who gets opportunities when we talk about Internationalisation’, the need to look at the future of Internationalisation. Some time was spent looking at key questions around the ‘group project’ notion, looking at matters of accountability and international offices’ role in our higher education institutions. In terms of inclusivity, a discussion was had on how online learning directly and negatively impacted international students. One participant emphasised that Internationalisation should be given more recognition within institutions of higher learning. Two essential questions were raised: How do we create a sense of belonging? Followed by how do we move beyond “them vs us” thinking in higher educational institutions? 

In concluding remakes, Ms Thomas stated that language had a role in creating a sense of belonging. The speaker used a personal experience to illustrate the importance of adapting to the COVID online context through language. A sense of belonging can be achieved by accommodating various languages and breaking away from the stigma that English is the supreme language or denotes intelligence.

Mr Mnyaka stated there is a need to reimagine the concept of home and said that there is a need to stop creating isolation space. There is a need to create spaces of inclusion and look at how we deal with international students.

Ms Phiri stated that there is a need to be more sensitive towards each other. They said language plays a role in creating barriers, and there is a need to accommodate international students that do not speak local languages. The speaker stated that COVID-19 showed that international students were not accommodated, especially when they incurred extra expenses that the university did not assist with; this further created a “them vs us”.

Ms Seloanyane stated that policymakers would need to be on the ground and assist international students in South Africa.

Mr September concluded the Student Roundtable Discussion by highlighting the aforementioned key inputs and points of discussion and finally thanking IEASA, conference participants, and the student panellists. 

Source Dingaan Booi