http://www.ieaa.org.au/Content/Image.asp?imageID=936B0F44-08A7-4B3D-A020-1BD7530DC79DGudrun Paulsdottir, President of the European Association for International Education reviews the book ‘Making a difference: Australian International Education’. Edited by Dorothy Davies and Bruce Mackintosh, the primary goal of the book was to identify benefits of Australian international education, often not recognised in the wider community.
I had the privilege to attend the 25th conference of AIEC/IEAA in Adelaide in October 2011. I had been in Australia before but not in this kind of setting and that is what made the big difference. The lasting impression that really struck me was the uniformity of the language shared by the different stakeholders of international education. If the rest of the world of higher education had an equally joint approach, however different the goals and incentives, international education would be in a very different place today. Australia not only has a national strategy for international education, there are measures to fulfil it as well. That kind of setup is only true for a handful of countries in Europe. Governmental support is essential if countries and universities are to be successful in internationalisation. These impressions from the conference in Adelaide are confirmed by this very interesting book, Making a Difference: Australian International Education.
I must add that after reading the book, it has become increasingly clear that there is so much more to learn from the Australian experience. By putting together this historical overview, they are giving us the opportunity of a rare overview where the dots are coming together in various interesting ways. There is no doubt that the geographical position of Australia has had an impact of the development of the internationalisation of higher education. Being so close to developing countries with strong economic development has played a huge part. The distance from Europe has contributed to the fact that in general we, the Europeans, (UK excluded) have been watching from afar without really paying attention to what was going on and how it was done. That is our loss.
This book gives us the opportunity to look at the long term effects of Australian internationalisation, which are very interesting. The list of benefits is very long and to a large extent the outcomes correlate to the European Union Agenda 2020 goals. The added values of societal development, innovation, capacity building and public diplomacy, which are just some of those mentioned in the book, are also goals set up for Europe. They are seen as essential in order for Europe to maintain its standard of living and continue to develop in the years to come.
Both Australia and Europe have invested in mobility, from very different points of departure at different times, but in both cases it is apparent that this investment has had a large impact on the development of higher education. The Australian programmes for capacity building and public diplomacy which were launched in the 1950s, and the European mobility programmes seem, to a large extent, to deliver the same kind of outcomes even though the intentions were very different. Outcomes like intercultural competencies, development of language education, innovation in delivery of education, development of student services and support. While Australia sees the result of that impact already, Europe is still learning, even though the Bologna process has speeded up the process somewhat.
When it comes to making good use of the added values and benefits that can be drawn from international mobility, the networks and resources pertaining from good alumni relations are excellent examples of how Australia has maximised the outcomes of their international activities.
In the conclusion of the first chapter, I found a short phase that strikes me as one of the most important messages in international higher education today – namely, “it is more to it that economics” [exact wording]. Today’s tendency to focus so much on the money puts us at risk of forgetting the true mission of higher education. Yes, money is important but what we can achieve with international higher education should be our primary focus and goal. In the last chapter of the book, the author elaborates on this topic. This is interesting reading and plausible, based on our knowledge today.  All of us engaged in international higher education know that this is a very difficult area to predict, changes can come very quickly and from the most unexpected direction. There are so many actions and decisions coming from all over the globe which can change the scenery at any moment. This book however, gives us the opportunity to learn and to some extent also prepare ourselves for the future. However it will develop, I’m sure it will be interesting and exciting. To order your copy, visit the IEAA website.
The remarkable fact that international education has reached number three in Australia’s exports, contributing over $16 billion to the Australian economy in 2010/2011, is not overlooked, but other positive outcomes of international education are also highlighted including the number of international alumni of Australian institutions - over two and a half million of them – significantly enhancing Australia’s diplomatic presence in the region; more than 320,000 Malaysians, for example, have been educated in Australia. The ongoing relationships many of these former students have with Australia are illustrated in the book as are the experiences of Australian students who have benefitted from the interaction with international students from many different countries. These student perspectives demonstrate the difference which international education has made to their lives, from personal connections and greater understanding of other cultures, to opportunities for overseas experience and enhanced career options.