The fourth strategic goal in Queen’s recently approved Strategic Framework speaks to the importance of strengthening the University’s presence globally: “developing and implementing a comprehensive, equity-focused and integrated program of global engagement that includes active, strategic partnerships, enhanced student and faculty mobility, and teaching and learning reform oriented toward a pluralistic and culturally relevant global environment.
That orientation – not just to the globe but to the pluralistic, diverse and heterogeneous cultures and worlds that comprise it- – is essential for any university worthy of the name. It was the inclusion of students and scholars from multiple countries that in 11th-century Europe saw monastic schools evolve into studia generalia and then into the earliest universities. Notwithstanding COVID-19 and the rise of parochialism and nationalism in our own time, the global mission of higher education continues to deepen. Rapid digital communication has superseded easy jet travel as the main driver of this trend, which understands that the community of teachers and scholars comprising the academy cannot be contained in a single campus or country, and that its work will legitimately be done in and through a very diverse array of national and culturally distinct institutional types. Here at Queen’s, our fourth strategic goal is essentially to be a more effective, collaborative, and responsive participant in that global project of learning and discovery.
The proliferation of online learning during the pandemic has caused experts to wonder about the future of internationalization in higher education, in particular the central role of student mobility in that process. It is certainly doubtful that in the immediate future we will see the number of students travelling internationally for their education return to pre-COVID levels – UNESCO put the global figure at 5.3 million in 2017 – but that doesn’t mean the need for universities to be globally engaged will be any less important. It also doesn’t mean universities and the students who might travel to study in them now regard the in-person experience as any less important.
Earlier this year, watching the global academy rally in support of Afghan students and scholars – observing how often bold words have been underwritten by equally bold measures to ensure scholars at risk can continue their work in safety – I have been struck by the importance of shared space in human development. Notwithstanding the benefits to be derived from making Queen’s open to the world virtually, it remains critical that we be open physically to those who will learn from us as much as we will learn from them. At a time of unprecedented migration around the globe, we have an ethical obligation as well as an academic incentive to welcome the world to Queen’s.