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Mälardalen University in Sweden
Gudrun Paulsdottir serves as President of the European Association for International Education (EAIE) while also holding the professional position of International Strategist at her home institution, Mälardalen University in Sweden.
Can you begin by sharing a little about the European Association for International Education?
The European Association for International Education (EAIE) is a non-profit organization whose main aim is the stimulation and facilitation of the internationalization of higher education in Europe and around the world, and to meet the professional needs of individuals active in international education. Currently our membership numbers more than 2800 international education professionals.
What are some of the general areas of concern and interests of EAIE members?
Currently, the main area of concern remains the tsunami in Japan and its impact on higher education institutions both in that country and the members’ own country. Areas of general interest include: Horizon 2020, the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, a Europe 2020 flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe's global competitiveness ; the modernization of higher education in Europe and the changing role of internationalization as no longer just being considered student mobility but more so as a strategic tool.
How does the Governance of the Association and its membership view diversity?
The Governance of EAIE, and the Association as a whole, is very international, embracing the idea of diversity. The Association’s board consists of 20 percent non-Europeans in addition to non-Europeans representation on some of the section boards within the Association. EAIE is a member-led organization governed by members who hold elected positions on the Leadership; therefore, there is an intentional effort to ensure diversity of the governing bodies by targeting various geographic areas to encourage involvement. Additionally, the Northern part of Europe has traditionally been more highly involved, but to encourage involvement by others the association has had conferences and training events in other parts of Europe. Overall, there has been good representation in Europe; therefore, EAIE is now looking more outside of Europe to encourage diversity of thought.
When the word “diversity” is referred to in the context of International education, the EAIE members are usually referring to student mobility and students that cannot afford to study abroad due to their social economic background. Erasmus gives good grants to address this; however, it remains something many universities are concerned about. Additionally, the European Commission wishes to have more diverse students coming into exchange programs. They have set aside specific funding to facilitate the mobility of disabled students. There has been discussion regarding mobility of disabled students; however, while some countries are very prepared to receive disabled students others are not.
Are EAIE membership institutions interested in receiving diverse U.S. students?
The EAIE membership institutions readily accept the involvement of diverse U.S. students in study abroad as they have no had problems with the students as they cope and adjust well; however, often there are challenges with the U.S. International offices that want accommodations or more attention paid to the U.S. diverse students; there is an over protectiveness. This presents a challenge for host offices as Americans cannot be treated differently in a mixed population. Paulsdottir contends the EAIE membership does not group people along ethnicities or nationalities. We are institutions of equity. Often, the U.S. students and parents need to be better prepared for studying abroad.
What is your home university; Mälardalen University, engaged in to promote internationalization and diversity?
Mälardalen University is one of Sweden’s medium-sized institutes of higher education with over 13,000 students studying one of approximately 68 programs and 900 courses. The International office and academic coordinators make up a very diverse staff of 15; with 6 nationalities. They are competent, value diversity and provide good customer service. The office is physically housed on one of two campuses; the Västerås campus.
The University is doing some Interesting things to promote the appreciation of diversity and internationalization in its students. Mälardalen University has created a profile that believes in strong co-production with society, co-production taken to the next step working with industry—good knowledge transfer both ways. All the resources, incubators, entrepreneurs makes MDH special, makes it a global university. In other regions, they work with companies exchanging with all the partners, in a regional global transfer.
Mälardalen University also has more than 250 agreements with other institutes of higher education around the world for teacher and student exchanges. These agreements are in a variety of subject areas and also include the development of program curricula. The University also participates in various European projects, for example the EU-Canada and EU-USA higher education co-operation programs and the Erasmus lifelong learning program.
Is there a specific program that visiting students find exceptionally interesting?
Mälardalen University is the world's first environmentally certified university, prioritizing sustainable community development in all its activities. In every program there is a sustainable element, ecological economics, looking at budget and assets plus the value on nature. ISO 14001 Environmental international standards are reflected in every procedure, travel, buildings, all choices. Incoming exchange students find this of great interest.
Do visiting U.S. students gain an expanded understanding of the diversity that exists in Europe?
Yes, by participating in Introduction to Intercultural Awareness they can become aware of their own role when they encounter different cultures throughout Europe. Through seminars they can reflect on their personal development and changing views, gaining better awareness.
What would you like to see for International Education in the future?
Institutions of equality, with no national funding limits, and many of the same objectives as the Bologna process: quality assurance, recognition of qualifications and periods of study; promotion of mobility; focus on lifelong learning and inclusion of higher education institutions and students. I believe society and the international education community has made some progress but still has a way to go.