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George Sharvashidze – University should Receive More Applications for Student Exchange Programs than Ever Before

Student mobility should be fully restored as soon as possible as the advantages of experiencing another country’s higher education environment cannot be replaced by remote learning. The opinions of representatives of European universities on this issue were published in University World News. The article by Nic Mitchell headlined “European University Association Conference: Online learning can’t replace student mobility” reads that Rector of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (TSU) George Sharvashidze and Professor Dame Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool and a leading figure promoting global links in United Kingdom higher education, held an interesting discussion at an annual conference of European University Association (EUA).

Professor Beer told the conference that going abroad to study was a life-changing experience for students, contributing to their maturity and personal and intellectual capacity. “Students will feel an affinity with the country they have studied in and the need for cross understanding and sensitivities to other people’s cultures, making for greater cultural understanding both at home and overseas and building up social and economic ties between nations,” she said.

The article emphasizes that while the pandemic has changed everything in the way staff are likely to develop education and research global partnerships in the future – with much less travelling and more working together online – the same should not happen to international student mobility.

“I would like that to be fully restored. I don’t think we can replace that with online learning,” said Beer. “The pandemic will change everything for staff, but hopefully it will not change student mobility.”

University World News also focuses on the opinion voiced by TSU Rector George Sharvashidze who also addressed EUA conference delegates. He said that while academics and university leaders could happily move activities online, such as the EUA event he was speaking at, it was significant that his university had received more applications for student exchange programs than ever before.

Rector Sharvashidze said that “no one university can solve all the problems facing the world”, and highlighted the “wonderful example” of the German-Georgian science bridge in increasing capacity, joint degrees and then “receiving back our graduates and post-docs” to develop a joint research agenda.

The conference session focused on nurturing global partnerships through education and research and included a number of video messages from around the world.

During the conference session chaired by Patrick Levy, an EUA board member from Grenoble Alpes University, France, speakers were asked about developing international partnerships in challenging geopolitical environments and with hostile regimes. Beer urged European higher education not to shy away from fulfilling its mission in the broadest sense.

She cited the support of the EUA in making the case for the UK’s continued participation in the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation program, saying: “It was hugely important and the UK government listened. If we hadn’t made the case, we would be failing our students and staff.” Beer also advocated more and stronger global collaboration in the face of the rising tide of nationalism to ensure staff and students are protected, together with academic freedoms and freedom of speech, “even if this is often tricky for our governments”.

Sharvashidze, in turn, said this wasn’t just a problem for regions outside Europe, adding: “The exclusion of certain countries from Horizon Europe is probably not the best example of strengthening academic cooperation.” He also said that while he supported more cooperation, the situation in some countries, such as Belarus and Russia, made it difficult to cooperate on a full scale, but “responsible and reciprocal partnerships” should be encouraged even when there are problems with academic freedom and university autonomy. Sharvashidze also turned to the need to ensure that competition and the league table mentality didn’t hinder global collaboration, saying: “While strategically it is important to boost cooperation, of course there will be competition, but we must be careful not to hinder openness.”

He was particularly concerned about the “publish or perish” culture encouraged by the rankings, which he admitted were important to politicians and parents but failed to pay attention to some of the other fundamental areas that higher education values. Sharvashidze was also concerned by the growing number of figures calling for more connections with industry, saying: “My concern is that some politicians will translate that to saying we need more applied science and less blue sky research.”

In her closing remarks Dame Janet Beer told delegates that one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic was that it connected universities more closely with their cities and regions. “The civic ambitions of the places we inhabit have become sharper in focus and while we have global ambitions, like climate change, we also have to work with our regions and those relationships became closer during the pandemic,” she said.

The annual conference of European University Association (EUA) was held on April 23, 2021 and it was dedicated to the role of education and research in the development of global partnership. The conference was opened by European Council President Charles Michel, while EUA President Michael Murphy made his closing remarks at the event.