Collaboration on SDG4 currently missing, experts say

Speaking at the Australian International Education Conference 2021, experts from across the globe explained what is needed for the goal to be met in their respective regions.

In the Asia-Pacific region, high levels of variability in educational and developmental levels between countries has really impacted the region’s ability to meet SDG4, explained president of the Asia Pacific Association for International Education and vice-president (Global) at Griffith University Sarah Todd.

“The UNESCO [recently] acknowledged that the region is lagging behind [in terms of SDG4],” she noted.

“Over half of the world’s international migration occurs within the Asia-Pacific. It also has the largest number of displaced [persons] and refugees,” she said.

“From an international education perspective, a lens on it is that the region has some of the biggest source countries, as well as some of the largest destinations for international education.”

The goal, aiming to “provide equal access to affordable vocational training, to eliminate gender and wealth disparities, and achieve universal access to a quality higher education”, also requires coordinated plans, according to Lavern Samuels, director International Education and Partnerships at Durban University of Technology and vice-president and chair of the Directors Forum of the International Education Association of South Africa.

Without local and regional plans aligned, society will not be able to achieve the “really important grand plan”, he explained.

“If we do not come together, then we are certainly not going to achieve [SDG4] at the global level. I think having pockets of achievement, really deepen the fissures of inequalities,” he stressed.

“I think internationalisation plays a really important role in finding creative solutions jointly. Coming together is really important, as we are all stronger together.

“In South Africa, international education has played an important role in addressing [SDG4], particularly because we are one of the most unequal societies in the world. Coming together at regional, national, and international levels is vital for addressing this goal,” Samuels posited.

In 2019, the Association of Commonwealth Universities launched a network to boost the contribution of universities to the SDGs. An International Finance Facility for Education also launched in the same year seeking to mobilise $2 billion by 2020.

“Real inclusion is not just about improving the participation numbers or access to higher education”

In Europe, “diversity and inclusion have been very high on the agenda for the European Union, the Council of Europe, the Bologna Process, as well as the national governments”, suggested Piet Van Hove, vice-president, European Association for International Education and senior policy advisor for Internationalisation at the University of Antwerp.

“[However], real inclusion is not just about improving the participation numbers or access to higher education, that’s only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the problem we are facing.

“Real inclusion and collaboration should mean that all contributions are valued. And, inter-disciplinary conversations and international conversations are essential. That is the real key to bringing a real culture of inclusivity and diversity into our institutions.

“I think collaboration between students, institutions, and our associations will be important for achieving SDG4.”

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