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Research seminar

Shaping and sharing expert knowledge to tackle global problems

The role of universities as informal diplomatic actors

Add to calendar 2024-03-14 13:30 2024-03-14 15:00 Europe/Rome Shaping and sharing expert knowledge to tackle global problems Via Zoom YYYY-MM-DD


14 March 2024

13:30 - 15:00 CET


Via Zoom

This event organised by the Crisis of Experts Knowledge and Authority Interdisciplinary Research Cluster hosts Dr Marina Cino Pagliarello (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the STG), who will talk about the role that high education institutions, such as the European Universities Initiative alliances, play as informal diplomatic actors.

In a world of shifting geopolitics and increasing societal and economic challenges, universities indirectly contribute with human resources and scholarly expertise to international organisations at the helm of global governance. Within these processes, higher education institutions are of increasing relevance for modern societies under three main dimensions. Firstly, through teaching and research, universities produce human capital and new knowledge that can drive innovation. They also fulfil a "third mission" by being involved in externally engaged activities that can stimulate local economies. Secondly, higher education international exchanges serve as reliable mechanisms for exposing visitors to host countries' cultures, politics, and society, with major players in global politics using it to achieve national interests. Countries such as the USA, UK and Australia have established educational opportunities as an important soft power tool. Thirdly, as we experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, several threats to global public goods call for international scientific collaborations and for the establishment of global governance schemes based on knowledge to address shared global challenges, especially those requiring scientific advice such as climate change, health, and conflict resolution. The role of experts in enhancing the global science-policy interface is also part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. In sum, higher education institutions (HEIs) have become critical actors in promoting economic, social, cultural, and educational relations among nations.

Yet, from the IR and EU literature we know surprisingly little about how higher education institutions combine political agency with knowledge production and thus act as autonomous agents of informal diplomacy. From the perspective of international relations theory and the recent field of science diplomacy– defined as "scientific cooperation and engagement with the explicit intent of building positive relationships with foreign governments and societies"– there is widespread acknowledgment among scholars that higher education is of paramount importance in addressing global challenges. However, the nature and role of HEIs in science diplomacy remains unclear. Science diplomacy literature has been primarily interested in understanding how the use of science can advance, support, and inform decision-making to promote diplomatic objectives from a State-centric perspective. EU studies literature has been even less attentive to the role of HEIs as a corollary of knowledge production and dissemination. Here, science diplomacy has been examined under two rationales: competitiveness concerns in the context of globalisation and desires to foster cooperation, that in turn have been embedded within the concepts of Market Power Europe (MPE) or Normative Power Europe (NPE). However, these approaches neglect a third potential form of power, namely "knowledge" power, defined very recently as the "capacity to act in global affairs that allows an actor to affect both relationship and context of global governance by mobilising knowledge", while overlooking the autonomous contribution of universities to diplomatic goals, for instance by promoting internationalisation strategies, collaborative research footprints; and sharing scholarly advice to advance foreign policy objectives.

The presentation seeks to develop a new conceptual approach to understand how higher education institutions collaborate to share and shape expert "knowledge" as informal diplomatic actors to tackle global challenges. Second, the presentation applies this conceptual framework to the case of the European Universities Initiative alliances (EUIa). Launched in 2017 and regarded as the "start of an ambitious new phase in intra-European higher education collaboration", the purpose of the European Universities Initiative is to create a new hybrid type of collaborative scheme based on transnational alliances and involving cooperation in terms of student and staff mobility, joint degrees, and governance among European universities, linking research, innovation and competitiveness. In doing so, the presentation discusses the role of these alliances as informal diplomatic actors, and how they intervene in higher education to achieve diplomatic aims. The presentation is part of a Marie Curie funded project (2023-2025) that ultimately aims to help citizens understand the importance of higher education beyond its "Ivory Tower" image, and its role in solving global common challenges, promoting peace, and establishing and fortifying ties across borders.

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