Mobility as a Catalyst for Resilience and Renewal

International academic mobility has been a cornerstone of universities dating back as far as the 12th and 13th centuries when they began to flower throughout the European continent.  With a clear understanding of the multiple benefits of academic mobility and the rich and diverse learning environment it created, the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe, adopted the Constitutio Habita, an academic charter that ensured and protected the rights and free movement of a traveling scholar in the pursuit of education.  The widely referred to concept of “academic freedom” today stems from the idea of this charter.

Mobility took on a broader dimension with the emergence of Humanism in Europe in the late 15th and 16th centuries. Scholars and scientists the likes of Copernicus and Vesalius and the Dutch humanist and philosopher, Desiderius Erasmus, began to flock to universities in neighboring countries to immerse themselves in new cultures and discover new sources of knowledge and fresh perspectives on the physical and spiritual worlds. Latin, the lingua franca of university education at the time greatly facilitated mobility, much like the English language does today, and made possible the cross-pollination of thoughts and ideas that gave way to a European Renaissance, marked by the rediscovery of classical philosophy, art and literature.  Later, sea travel made way for the sprouting of universities in new continents, further extending opportunities for international academic mobility and reinforcing the importance and need for knowledge sharing.

We can’t deny the enormous impact internationalization has had on national universities across time.  Over the last three decades, cross-border collaborations in research have prompted huge advancements in fields such as science and health, engineering and technology, social and business sciences, and many others.  Major industries have succeeded in expanding globally thanks to the possibility of recruiting diverse talent from universities around the globe. Campuses have also become platforms where dedicated and ambitious youth from multidisciplinary and multicultural backgrounds gather and create startups that revolutionize markets and sectors. Through scholarship programs and new online formats, universities have also created impact and access beyond their borders. Clearly, there is no substitute for the enriching learning and teaching environment made possible through the internationalization of higher education institutions.

International academic mobility in all its forms has had moments of great growth, but has also suffered many set-backs. Although the impact of political and international agendas on higher education institutions has been constant throughout time, in recent years the sector has witnessed increasing tensions around mobility resulting from increasing populism, nationalist tendencies, and strong public anti-immigration discourses. Restrictions placed on international mobility in specific countries and regions have influenced the decision of top faculty and talented students on where to study or continue with their academic careers. Due to these limitations, cross cultural partnerships and alliances between universities have become more necessary than ever. Mobility programs such as Erasmus+ have allowed for students and educators to gain international and intercultural competencies that increase personal and professional development.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has altered higher education as we know it and has put into question the educational models of many universities.  We are not yet clear to what extent cross-border mobility will be impacted in this new paradigm although universities may be seeing important drops in foreign student enrollment and recruitment of international scholars. Study abroad programs and other cross-border activities for students and faculty have in large part also been cancelled at least for the near future. Despite these setbacks, the current crisis has also awakened new opportunities for education and cross border collaborations through the use of technology. COVID-19 also offers a chance to reboot and reshape academic mobility, making it more inclusive and more environmentally sustainable. Sustainability is a global priority and will need global solutions. By committing to educate responsible and globally-minded students, universities can help navigate this crisis and contribute to building a more sustainable and equitable world.

The long list of pressing concerns for most universities at this time cannot be avoided, and compromises will have to be made. We will need to work to make our campuses safe for our faculty, students and staff by applying the necessary protocols and taking the appropriate measures to reduce risks and pave the way for a full recovery of our educational activities. But in the process we cannot lose sight of the importance of keeping collaboration and mobility alive even as we adapt to our new reality.

International academic mobility has weathered many a storm since its early beginnings, and will most likely be faced with new threats and challenges in the years to come. But with every obstacle that is overcome and every threat that is appeased, universities will have acquired greater resilience, agility and awareness. Cross-border knowledge sharing and mobility are at the core of higher education institutions and must be preserved. Universities must work together alongside public administrations to ensure this is accomplished.

We commit to the following elements of a shared vision:

  • Ensured cross border collaboration and nurturing of diverse and globally-minded talent with a special focus on sustainability.
  • The maintenance and furtherance of cross border knowledge-sharing for the collective wellbeing of society.
  • Leveraging technology in higher education to enable maximum levels of interconnectedness and exploring more environmentally sustainable and equitable ways to connect across borders.
  • Collaborative efforts within the higher education ecosystem to streamline cross border flows of talent and knowledge.
  • Global collaboration to identify effective health related protocols that guarantee safe university campuses and at the same time facilitate international mobility.
  • Strongly embedded and upheld policies, actions and activities of diversity and inclusion across our educational institutions. Through unwavering example we will foster and promote much-needed tolerance, respect, and equality across our academic communities and the higher education sector as a whole.

Signatories in alphabetical order by institution:

  • Fred Swaniker, Founder, African Leadership University, (A. L. Network), Mauricius
  • Fadlo R. Khuri, President, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
  • Christina Paxson, President, Brown University, USA
  • Rutger Engels, Rector Magnificus, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  • Ahmad M. Hasnah, President, Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), Qatar
  • Lawrence S. Bacow, President, Harvard University, USA
  • Koichi Tadenuma, President, Hitotsubashi University, Japan
  • * Santiago Iniguez, President, IE University, Spain
  • Edward Byrne AC, President and Principal, King’s College London, United Kingdom
  • Umran Inan, President, Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey
  • Andrea Prencipe, Rector, Luiss University, Italy
  • Anthony Grayling, Master, New College of the Humanities, United Kingdom
  • Martin Paul, President, Maastricht University, The Netherlands
  • Ignacio Sánchez Díaz, Rector, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC), Chile
  • Liu Wei, President, Renmin University of China, China
  • Frédéric Mion, President, Sciences Po, France
  • Lily Kong, President, Singapore Management University, Singapore
  • David Garza, Rector & President Elect, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico
  • Dame Minouche Shafik, Director, The London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE), United Kingdom
  • Peter Mathieson, President, The University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  • Alejandro Gaviria Uribe, Rector, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia
  • Federico Valdes, Rector, Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile
  • Felipe Portocarrero, Rector, Universidad del Pacífico, Peru
  • Lucas Grosman, Rector, Universidad de San Andrés, Argentina
  • Carlos Montufár, Rector, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador
  • João Sàágua, Rector, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa (NOVA), Portugal
  • Gianmario Verona, Rector, Università Bocconi, Italy
  • Isabelle Huault, President, Université Paris Dauphine-PSL, France
  • Santa Ono, President, University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada
  • Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice-Chancellor, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Julio Frenk, President, University of Miami, EEUU.
  • Edeltraud Hanappi-Egger, Rector, Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU), Austria
  • Peter Salovey, President, Yale University, USA

*Initiative coordinated by the Reinventing Higher Education Conference, the President’s Office and the International Relations Department at IE University in collaboration with its network of partners.

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