From 15-17 June 2021, the British Council hosted the virtual conference Going Global 2021, which this year was focused on the theme ‘Reimagining international tertiary education for a post-pandemic world’. Going Global is a conference on international education that brings together leaders from across the world to debate the future of further and higher education.

This year, three Commonwealth Scholars – Protus Musotsi, Emraan Azad, and Amisha Pathak – were involved in discussions with the British Council to feed into the sessions on the future of international tertiary education. One Commonwealth Scholar, Emraan Azad, was chosen to speak in the plenary session of Going Global on 17 June.

During the focus group discussions, the Scholars were asked questions about their experiences of being international students during the COVID-19 pandemic, the differences between the UK education system and that of their home country, and what their ideal education system of the future should include.

Our Scholars had the following to say:

  • “While the pandemic has resulted in the convenience of studying online with lectures recorded where you can follow later by watching videos, the mental health impact on the students cannot be understated and will take time to heal.”
  • “With many students not able to meet and interact with classmates which is a key part of learning, the students are greatly separated from each other. Besides, you cannot easily get help from a fellow student you don’t know in person.”
  • “Online learning cannot be the future education system for everyone, as we have many courses where the practical lab-based activities matter more than the theory part. How will we train engineers and doctors online?”
  • “The future education system should focus more on practical employability skills as the pandemic has taught that we can read the notes on our own if directed to the right sources.”
  • “Whether universities will be willing to invest in practicalities is the hard question as it is the most expensive consideration and cost has to be managed.”
  • “There are both advantages and disadvantages to freedom of international travel: minimising the number of international flights would reduce the amount of carbon emission globally, however by working and living in a physical campus abroad, students can arguably build up stronger bonds and network more effectively among future leaders and changemakers.”

In the plenary session of the Going Global conference, Emraan emphasised that if we don’t address the dynamics of difference between the Global North and South, it will be difficult to continue an open, inclusive and equitable higher education offering for all. Speaking of his own teaching experiences in Bangladesh, Emraan described witnessing first-hand the difficulties and inequalities which students and teaching staff at some institutions face in terms of access to internet services and other learning facilities. Whilst the pandemic may have exposed pre-existing problems in educational access, such as the digital divide, Emraan observed that it was vital to address these issues going forwards. Policymakers must figure out how to enable cooperation between states and NGOs to sustainably reduce the global inequality in the educational sector.