Building convivial locally grounded, globally connected networks
Universities in the Western world have tended to value international students primarily as ways of shoring up revenue as the government makes successive funding cuts. In an article on when and if international students will be allowed back into New Zealand and underlining the limitations of resorting to online alternatives as currently conceived, Dr. RituParna Roy from Auckland University says:
For many years now, our international students have been taken for granted. They are treated as cash cows by universities who charge obscene sums to back-fill the chronic under-funding of domestic students by successive governments…So my plea moving forward is simple. As we inch toward a post-COVID reality, we expand on the ‘kindness’ narrative set out by government so that it applies to everyone, including our most recent arrivals.
Jeremy Moses, who describes himself on Twitter as “International Relations at the University of Canterbury / Ethics of War/ Humanitarianism/ hard times/ views very much my own”, tweeted:
So how, in practical terms, can a transition be made from seeing international students primarily as a means to our financial ends, to assisting them to fulfill their needs and aspirations, including by extending a kindness narrative to all?
The following is an example of a model that could work. Called Campus Connections, this proposal was submitted to the University of Canterbury Tech Jumpstart competition in 2010. It didn’t win funding, but it did have much popular support.
The basic idea was to build an on-line campus network and exchange platform where services or goods could be traded with a virtual campus currency (cc). Most people are aware of the market place where people meet, exchange goods and services and in the process build relationships, develop trust and innovative and creative cultures. Campus Connections is designed to function as a 21st century market of campus demand and supply, where everyone with a University membership can participate.
This kind of platform could extend the kindness narrative to one in which all –international students and all other campus members – could potentially benefit.
- Social relationships and integration: enabling socially and culturally acceptable ways of giving and receiving and in the process building a much more connected campus community. For example: new students and staff can get lonely and homesick and if left isolated, are much more likely to under-perform and complain to others, including back home. It’s often difficult for people, especially isolated individuals, to ask for help, or to offer it, not knowing what help would be comfortably received.
- Intercultural competence: by providing a means where all have opportunities and incentives to engage, learn and benefit from all the diverse cultures and perspectives on the campus.
- Campus collaborations: by offering efficient and low-cost ways of networking people, ideas, resources and skills in all kinds of innovative projects.
An illustration of how this platform could work to meet the needs of campus members
In talking with female Malaysian students we discovered many are not used to cooking at home, that there are not many suitable places to eat out, and it is expensive to buy family meals. Muslim’s said they have particular difficulties in sourcing halal meat and trusting commercial preparation and cooking. Consequently Malaysian female students said they spend a lot of time cooking, which they say detracts from time they want to be studying or relaxing and socialising.
With One click on the Campus Connection application they could:
- Ask: does anyone know… can anyone help…?
Our research of similar projects indicates if asked, people generally want to help and appreciate being asked and that here will be lots of offers.
- They could look at the offers and choose the best.
If there is a deal, the software system will reconcile the accounts of buyers and sellers and immediately and accurately record who delivers to whom.
- If needs are still not met, then it is important for the campus community to know this and importantly, it opens opportunities for others with ideas for solutions. For instance, an opportunity could be to develop campus cuisine based on New Zealand halal meat. It could be piloted at Canterbury, and then, with multidisciplinary collaboration around research and development (packaging, marketing, accreditation, law, trade, health etc) franchised to campuses around the world.
Feedback from our pilot study of Campus members at Canterbury University wanting to use a platform like this concluded: Technology would enable people at UC to work together… Promotes collaboration between people… It will be a much more efficient way of shifting resources… A perfect way to bridge the information gap… CC offers better choices… Organisations (business and local government) can connect with the university and pay for the best quality information and connections… It will build contentedness and capability of reaching out… It will promote community spirit – Relationships and connections really do matter. It is people, it is people, it is people …
Most people know we need to transition from the current neo-liberal order which privileges dollars over everything, but it’s not so easy to know how to make changes. This proposal points to how it could be done in a university context. We have also worked on similar projects for platforms for well-connected villages. Let us know what you think?