Delegates of the British Council’s Going Global 2016 conference are set to hear that a “designer handbag” approach to university collaboration based on international rankings is thwarting global networking opportunities between institutions with common interests.

University leaders, heads of state and policy makers are among the 800 representatives meeting in Cape Town’s International Convention Centre between May 3 and 5. Media FHE, the agency covering the conference on behalf of the British Council, notes that the influence higher education can have over each individual nation, along with the ways in which global university partnerships can help to meet national and local priorities, are all key themes of the 2016 programme.

Jo Beall, the British Council’s Director of Education and Society, is set to tell delegates of the world’s largest international higher education conference that while non-ranked universities obsess over the prospect of collaboration with some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, what they really should be doing is ‘seeking out pockets of excellence’ across a broader university network.

Dr Beall argues that current university ranking systems, such as those provided by Times Higher Education and QS World University Rankings, actually hinder the formation of productive partnerships between a wider range of institutions.

“I hear people saying they want to partner only with Oxford or Cambridge. When I was at the University of Cape Town as the Deputy-Vice Chancellor with responsibility for internationalisation, I would have people coming in saying they wanted to partner with us because we were the best university in Africa and I would ask what about us? What could they offer us in return to build a true partnership?” she said.

The Going Global conference also plans to discuss how universities should respond to the ongoing refugee crisis, the true value of higher education rankings, and whether internationalisation can have a negative effect if based purely on Western models.

The conference will also address current tension between English as a medium of instruction and national languages and the recent student protests in South Africa, where students have held demonstrations, even resorting to violence, due to rising fee levels denying students from lower socio-economic backgrounds access to higher education.

Going Global will also touch on the “Rhodes must Fall” campaign, in which students have been calling for more relevant and indigenous curriculums less influenced by South Africa’s colonial past.

“There will be no fudging of the issues and students have been invited in but the conference should not be dominated by South Africa when the rest of the continent have made the effort to get there,” said Dr Beall.

Conference members will also discuss the significance of mission groups, such as the recently formed African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), a collection of 15 research-centric universities from eight regions of Africa, including six in South Africa, which is modelled on the UK Russell Group alliance.

“This was a very creative response to recognising the need for differentiation across the continent while realising that within the context of South Africa alone that would be a red rag to a bull because of the demand for equity, and spreading the margarine very thinly across every institution is particularly fraught due to the racial apartheid background,” said Dr Beall.

Keep track of Going Global news and events via Twitter @HEGoingGlobal/#GoingGlobal, or click here for a live stream of the event – it’s happening right now!

Additional reporting by HEi News.

Image via Flickr.

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