The EAIR that I breathe
Our association “The Higher Education Society” is in healthy shape. Reaching the age of maturity – EAIR will celebrate its 40th birthday in 2018 – we can look back at forums, well organised by enthusiastic and professional university teams, with great keynote speakers, many interesting contributions from participants and our members and interesting new initiatives, like the presidential roundtable and the special interest groups. An asset of our association is that the forums bring us to new places, leads to reacquainting old friends and introduces us to new colleagues. The size of the conference is manageable for each participant, with limited fears of getting lost in the crowd. Focusing on the period I chaired the Executive Committee, I look back with fond memories at the forums in e.g. Stavanger and Birmingham: before heading off to these forums, I did not realise what treasures these universities and their cities and regions would harbor and afterwards I was happy having met new interesting colleagues.
As any organization, one cannot avoid asking – once in a while – whether we can do things different (and better). Probably we can, but in my view the challenge is the diversity of the attendees and membership of our organisation. We have long-standing members that attend almost each forum, while at the same time we annually greet many newcomers. We have junior researchers and seasoned practitioners and policy-makers. We have attendees primarily interested in particular topics and those that are generally interested. And our attendees come from a large variety of countries and types of institutions. So the question should probably be changed into: what and how can we change, while at the same time continuing to meet the needs and wishes of our membership? These challenges pertain to seemingly simple questions like the next location for a forum. But these are not simple questions, for they require – from the Executive Committee perspective – reaching a careful balance between “city and university attractiveness” and costs involved (for the association and for forum attendees), but also a guestimation of how potential attendees will appreciate going to certain places (with very practical questions about direct flights, language issues and hotel price) . Likewise, it may be easy to decide on adding another track to the programme. This will definitely be appreciated by those interested in new themes, whereas others may prefer to stick to the current format, realizing one can only attend one session at the time irrespective the number of tracks offered!
These kinds of questions emerge frequently on the agenda of the Executive Committee and rightly so. It is likely that changes will be piecemeal, but over a longer period of time, we can see EAIR is changing profoundly. In many respects the forums in Lund, Berlin and Prague were quite different from those in Rotterdam, Essen, Krems and Birmingham. We must continue to find new balances, but at the same time cherish the diversity of the membership and Forum attendees.
Jeroen Huisman is member of the Executive Committee and was Chair 2011-2016
This contribution presents his personal views
professor of Higher Education bij CHEGG - The Centre for Higher Education Governance Ghent.