EAIE 2022 explores sustainability

Published 21/09/2022

After two years of being held virtually, this year’s EAIE conference saw a record number of delegates who focused their efforts on sustainability, inclusivity and diversity through the theme of “the future in full colour”.

The 2022 iteration saw over 6200 participants from 90 countries, and 400 speakers, gather in Barcelona from September 13-16.

The theme was chosen with the aim of embracing the ever-expanding spectrum of tools for internationalisation and exploring how the sector can draw on this diverse pallet, to paint a vivid and inclusive picture of our shared future.

Michelle Stewart, the outgoing president of EAIE, described the three-day conference as a a rare and much valued opportunity to come together“.

Stewart reflected on the past few years in international education, and shared with delegates the moving sentiment that “we are not defeated, we have triumphed”.

She told The PIE News that this year’s conference had attracted a high percentage of completely new people – not only junior members of staff new to the industry, but those from countries who have not participated before.

Sustainability was at the forefront of the 32nd EAIE conference, not only through the content of sessions but through the logistics of the event.

Working closely with CANIE, participants were encouraged to move to and around Barcelona in a more sustainable way.

It was clear that international education conferences are well and truly back – with a difference.

Held in a conference centre powered by 26,000 solar panels, the event’s CO2 emissions were cut by 2200 tonnes.

For the first time, EAIE was a hybrid conference with online programme running parallel to the in-person event. All delegates were issued with a four day free travel pass for public transport and all food at the conference was meat-free with leftovers donated to a food bank.

Minimal paper was distributed in the responsibly sourced tote bags given to all delegates, and importance was placed on spreading the word of sustainability – and badges even given to those delegates who travelled green.

During the conference’s opening plenary, BBC journalist and keynote speaker Yalda Hakim reminded the industry how conflict is impacting the education of women and girls around the world, which resonated throughout much of the conference’s content.

“Wherever there has been uncertainty or conflict or upheaval, one of the first things that disappears are women and children and frankly, education, because of this assumption that education isn’t a key factor in ensuring the safety of a society,” she said.

“It has to be shelter, food, water, security. Of course, all of these things are incredibly important but when you go to these places like I have, whether it’s Yemen or Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan or even in the last couple of weeks, the devastating floods that we’ve seen in Pakistan, and I’ve spoken to young people there, they tell me they’re concerned about their future and their education,Hakim continued.

Afghanistan-born Hakim drew parallels between the current situation for females in Afghanistan and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine – which has put a halt to the education of many students – before making a call to action to the international education industry.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

I suppose what enrages me is why there isn’t more outrage globally that these girls have been prevented from going to school. Why aren’t our policymakers, our leaders, angrier? Why isn’t the world angrier that we in 2022 should have a society where women are pushed out of the public eye and girls are told, you cannot go to school, you cannot get an education?added Hakim.

During the closing plenary, Indigenous people photographer Jimmy Nelson spoke on the importance of preserving cultural identity, exploring our common humanity and celebrating the beauty of diversity – themes which resonated with those in the international education sector.

“Until we realign, reassess and look at these extraordinary individuals, and learn to appreciate their beauty, things will not change,” said Nelson.

Returning to the theme of sustainability, Nelson urged the international education sector and wider community to find a way to inspire every young person to align with the purpose of sustainability.

“We have to leave a legacy for the other,” he added.

“We’re here to stroke the planet, not take from the planet for me, then I think we could have an extraordinary journey,” Nelson concluded.

Stewart formally handed over the title of EAIE president to incoming president Piet Van Hove, who will serve in the role until 2024.

“In my opinion, the most basic role of what we do in our work is to bring people together, regardless of what they look like, who they love or where they come from and every time we can do that, it will make a difference,” said Van Hove.

“In my opinion, the most basic role of what we do in our work is to bring people together, regardless of what they look like, who they love or where they come from”

“It will increase understanding and understanding will lead to respect, empathy and solidarity and trust. Trust will lead to collaboration and that’s the only chance we have for making a better future for all of us” he added.

The 33rd EAIE conference will take place in Rotterdam in 2023.

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