Beyond these sessions, the overall theme selected for the 2019 conference was Knowledge Diplomacy, on the basis of a report written for the British Council by Dr. Jane Knight (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto). Introducing the subject in the opening session, Dr. Knight defined knowledge diplomacy as an emerging concept that is taking the internationalization of higher education well beyond the common understanding of “soft power”. Knowledge diplomacy also involves research and innovation and relies on the principles of negotiation, mutuality, reciprocity and collaboration between multiple actors, public and private alike. Its broad objective is to tap the political potential of international education, research and innovation to strengthen international relations with a view to responding to today’s global challenges, which no country can meet on its own. This trend is embodied, inter alia, in the emergence of international education hubs developed by countries, regions or cities for the purpose of building “a critical mass of education/knowledge actors in order to exert more influence in the new education marketplace and to strengthen relations with international counterparts.”
Particularly striking for an event of this type, which usually relies on a broad consensus of key ideas, was the address of the keynote speaker in the opening plenary session: James Bridle, author of New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, warned the audience in stark terms about the risks of a global environment now so dominated by a technology whose mode of operation so few of us can understand. With a future that seems increasingly more difficult to predict, he argued, humans are becoming enslaved to computational systems and controlled by algorithms whose sole purpose is to push them to shop. Adding to this how, under the rise of technology, facts are increasingly disputed and enlightened explanations for human phenomena are ceding ground to conspiracy theories, Bridle concluded, the new age does indeed look dark.
Some of the weak signals (emerging trends) that were pointed out during the parallel sessions included:
The rise of the “unbundled” education, i.e. a higher education in which investing three or four years toward graduation will no longer be a requirement. Instead, more and more students will seek certifications based on microcredits picked up on line from a range of institutions across the world. This will define the transnational education of tomorrow.
The model of provision of knowledge will continue to change in order to adapt to student demand (e.g. lecture classes will disappear).
The global push for universities to increase revenue and lower costs will continue to grow.