Is internationalisation like the tumbleweed, NTNU?
- Internationalisation is one of the building blocks of academia and NTNU is a role model for Norwegian higher education in its long-term prioritisation of global partnerships. Let us set an example for our students and take a stand, professor Rolee Aranya argues.
Rolee Aranya received NTNUs Internationalisation Prize for 2022. She encorurages NTNU to take a more proactive position om these mattersFoto: Synne Mæle
RoleeAranyaProfessor and Study Program Leader, MSc. in Urban Ecological Planning, Faculty of Architecture and Design, NTNU
As I see
the year inch closer to the end, I am reminded of the same time last year when
preparations were being made for NTNUs Internationalisation Conference. A few
months later, I had the pleasure of receiving NTNUs Internationalisation Prize
for 2022. A great honour, for which I am very grateful to all my colleagues and
the committee that evaluated me. But this year has possibly been the most
challenging for the very same purpose for which I was recognized, and I can’t
but wonder what the future holds. My recent participation in HK-Dir’s seminar
on cooperation with the PANORAMA countries, which the Government has prioritized
for research and higher education based cooperation, left me with feeling of
dread. Not only was NTNU very sparsely represented at this seminar, the
geopolitical uncertainty and the environment of insecurity pervading all
cooperation outside of the EEA, made me very unsure of where we stand.
seen large sweeping changes in our sector this past year – change in the policy
regarding tuition fees for students outside the EEA, restructuring of the Norwegian
Research Council, withdrawal of the funding schemes for student mobility and
partnerships with the universities in the Global South, changes in the
financing system for our education programs, large cuts in financing of NTNUs
campus project to name a few.
of these changes is very visible in our classrooms and will be even more so on
our campus from next year, when the last group of students with free tuition
graduate. In the two-year international masters program, Urban Ecological
Planning, that I teach in, there were no students from outside the EEA that
joined this year’s class. We have four enrolled students in the 20 places in the
program, two of whom have been given exemption for the ca 400.000 NOK/year
tuition fees. We have one student from the EU and one Norwegian student. Our
study program focusses on sustainable urban development in complex contexts
such as in the Global South and has adopted a pedagogical approach of
experiential learning. We take our students on a field-based, participatory
research driven assignment to the Global South for six to eight weeks, in the first
This has until now been partly financed by partnership projects such
as the Utforsk and Norpart from the HK-dir and programs like the current Norhed program administered by Norad. This has enabled us to maintain a large network
of relationships with universities, research institutions and NGOs from across
the world, thereby giving us a broad base for constantly developing our
curriculum and learning from processes of change in broad range of countries in
Asia and Africa. Our Alumni at these institutions have been instrumental in
keeping the relationships alive. Recognition of our outreach prompted the
UN-Habitat to partner with NTNU as one of the first Habitat Partner
Universities globally in 2013.
The international network we have through these
partnerships, not only links us with the institutions in the South, but also
with those institutions in the North that have also collaborated with the same
institutions. Our graduate students have been employed in municipalities,
consultancies, bi-and multilateral institutions, academia and civil society
organizations in Norway and abroad. Every semester me and my colleagues write
references, in equal numbers, for our former students that are being
interviewed for urban planning jobs in municipalities in Norway and abroad, as
PhD scholars in the best universities in the world and jobs in the private
sector consultancies. Thus, the network
of our partners and our alumni is truly global and as is our practice, but I
will come back to that.
program will celebrate its 25-year jubilee next year in 2024. While this is a
cause for celebration, we have very little to offer our students and partner
institutions from outside the EEA. The funding for international collaboration
through partnership in research and education is unpredictable, students from
outside the EEA can no longer afford our education and the general reduction in
funding for higher education will make it exceedingly difficult to cooperate.
But I ask myself the question whether the impact of at least 30-40 years of
investment in internationalisation of higher education so ephemeral? Have we
made such a big step backwards that it would be impossible to recover? Have we
really shrunk the world to the geographical boundaries of the EU? Will these
excellent resources in our institution just roll away like the tumbleweed?
wither internationalisation now, NTNU?
me some reason to hope are my colleagues at the Department of Architecture and
Planning, that come from 18 different nations, within and outside of Europe.
Many of us came to NTNU and to Norway, high up in the cold dark North, because
despite its remoteness the institution was vibrant and diverse and the nation
open to new cultures and opinions. The tolerance and equal opportunity I
experienced to develop and prosper was very unlike academic culture in other European
countries. Working on a day-to-day basis with the goal for climate neutrality
in Trondheim or the actions required for climate adaptation of the world’s most
vulnerable migrants in Sub Saharan Africa, the diversity of my colleagues is a
strength like no other.
Their diverse experiences and backgrounds give us a
much broader basis for engagement with challenges in our profession. There
exist research groups all over NTNU that thrive on the best talent recruited
very often though the long term partnerships we have invested in as an institution.
In a recent report shared with NTNUs board (Årsrapport for 2022: Arbeidsmiljø
og arbeidsmiljøutvikling ved NTNU: HMS-rapporten) it is very obvious that staff
from international origin is represented in all employee categories, in some
cases such as among post docs the share is as high as 76,3% (see below).
But I worry
that we will gradually lose this diversity from our offices, as we lose the
diversity from our campus. Only recently, my very own Department lost an
excellent colleague from Zambia, that quit from a tenured position as Associate
Professor. The changing institutional environment and reducing opportunities
for internationalisation were contributors to his decision.
care of this diversity NTNU – it is our strength!
reason that gives me hope is the impact our students have made in their own
professional practice. Urban challenges are global and global challenges are
exceedingly urban. So while some might argue that our study program has been
educating urban planners for the Global South, and now in a situation of
resource scarcity, Norway can no longer afford this, the large number of our
students (both European and from outside the EEA) that have been recruited by
small and large Norwegian municipalities and private consultancies is evidence
to the fact that solving global challenges locally will also require a
diversity in the workforce in all professions.
Migration, inequality, exclusion,
and climate change related vulnerability are parts of a complex picture that
cities all over the world will have to address. Our Alumni have had the
opportunity to learn from their peers that have experienced and address these
challenges in diverse urban contexts. This gives them an advantage that a
mono-cultural classroom could not have afforded. It gives me hope that we have
already educated these agents of change and they will contribute to the
innovation sorely needed in addressing global urban challenges. These future
leaders will make an impact in workforces in Norway and beyond.
keep in touch with our Alumni around the world. They are future agents of
And in the end,
I can only have hope and faith in the agency of our current students and
colleagues in effectuating change in the sector. A constant expression of outrage
from the National Student Organisation (NSO) and student leaders of several
higher education institutions and their active engagement in dialogue with
politicians must be commended. Students have shown great maturity in their
arguments, which demonstrate that they understand that loss of diversity from
their classroom is a loss for the internationalisation at home, for those
students that are not able to avail the advantage of international mobility. Various
colleagues from other universities have engaged in the public debate about the
cumulative effect of the change in policies in our sector on internationalisation
and consequently the loss of quality of higher education in Norway.
My hope is
that this debate will stay alive as more of the long term impacts become
visible. And in a nation built on the values of equality and felleskap
(community), even critical voices will be heard and inform policy, or the
change thereof. And that is where I have hope in NTNU, Norway’s biggest
university. Let us set an example for our students and take a stand. Internationalisation
is one of the building blocks of academia and NTNU is a role model for
Norwegian higher education in its long-term prioritization of global
partnerships. And even though we are engaged in tackling the small and large
crises in our sector, our focus on partnerships can not be a victim. We will
need these partnerships to emerge from the crises and to maintain NTNUs
position as a global institution.
exercise your agency as an institution. Take a stand!