By Wiebke Mohr
Wiebke Mohr, SIGHT student coordinator, and SIGHT Director Peter Friberg were representing SIGHT at the IAU 2018 International Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in November, hosted by the International Association of Universities.
Wiebke Mohr’s report from Kuala Lumpur: The conference yielded an extensive program, including plenary sessions, series of breakout sessions and opportunities for mingling and networking, as well as site visits. For me as a student, the breakout sessions were the most rewarding. During these breakout sessions, I had the fantastic opportunity to meet engaged people from a variety of countries such as Charles Hopkins and Katrin Kohl from York University in Canada, César Wazen from Qatar University, and Mazlan Othman from the International Council for Science Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ROAP) Malaysia. Furthermore, I was invited to Lebanon by Omar Houri, Secretary General at the Beirut Arab University.
During the first session, successful community engagement was presented through case studies from Canada, India, and Ghana. The Canadian case about engagement in indigenous communities was especially interesting to me. During the subsequent discussion, I got the opportunity to highlight the growing problem of mental health among the young generations, especially those from indigenous backgrounds, and that Higher Education institutions need to address this topic especially in the light of sustainable development and societies.
During the second session, I was very impressed by the passionate speech of Mr. Paul T. Zeleza, Vice-Chancellor at the U.S. International University-Africa from Nairobi, Kenya, who emphasized that it is on us as society to roll-back certain worrisome developments within the area of financing Higher Education, primarily being based on neo-liberal mechanisms, in order to get back to the concept of viewing Higher Education as a public good.
Concerning the third session, I recall the very positive attitude among the attendees to support student’s extracurricular engagement focused on policy development and socio-political matters. By supporting these kinds of engagements, we will foster the chances of achieving the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.
What surprised me, being a student representative, was the fact that most universities were merely represented by top leadership representatives and did not bring along students from their home institutions. In the future, it would be great to see more students among the attending delegations.
During the Inaugural Ceremony, following the presentation by Norma Mansor from the University of Malaya, several representatives questioned the concept of Higher Education as a public good and were emphasizing the importance for opening up for privatization within Higher Education. Coming from Sweden, where the concept of Higher Education as a public good usually does not give room for discussion, these discussions were rather disturbing and worrying. On the other hand, we should always recall for ourselves the very privileged position we hold, coming from a high-income country, where the money for Higher Education is available. The situation may look very different in low- and middle-income countries, why Higher Education institutions in these countries try to identify alternative approaches to financing Higher Education and R&D.
The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs were an integral part of several presentations and some discussions but overall, I had the feeling, that focus on the SDGs as an entirety was missing. However, this situation might change with the newly formed Global Higher Education Cluster to address the Agenda 2030. Hopefully, SIGHT can be part of this cluster in the future.
As a closing word, I would like to highlight the possibility of every human being to change behavior for sustainable development. This includes reflections on waste management. I do not know about e.g. the possibilities for storage of drinking water in Malaysia, but I am sure there would have been the opportunity to purchase and provide big tanks of drinking water instead of continuously handing out 0.5 L plastic bottles. If these small-scale changes in behavior for sustainable development could be given greater emphasis for the next IAU 2019 International Conference in Puebla, Mexico, I would be very happy.
Wiebke Mohr, SIGHT student coordinator, 5 December 2018.
Background: The International Association of Universities (IAU) was founded in 1950 under the auspices of UNESCO and is the leading global association of higher education institutions from all around the world. IAU has members from more than 130 countries. The current IAU president is Professor Pam Fredman, former rector at the University of Gothenburg and a member of SIGHT’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC).
The topic for the IAU 2018 International Conference was covering the theme “Higher Education Partnerships for Societal Impact”. The 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were incorporated, with a special focus on SDG 17 (“Partnerships for the Goals”).
SIGHT has a unique opportunity to strengthen the cooperation between different student groups and be the enabling career stepping stone for students passionate about global health, regardless of discipline. Being a potential game changer for global health, Agenda 2030 and its successful implementation is dependent on a cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary approach to sustainable development. By working together with students SIGHT will not only gain the crucial perspective of students, but introduce a global health approach in line with Agenda 2030 to the coming generation of leaders.