The question is clear, a tad facetious, and always current; the answer is nothing short of a challenge. After 36 years of existence, some organizations are long in the tooth, others find ways to constantly re-invent themselves. EAIR is not immune to the question: If EAIR did not exist, what difference would it make to members, non-members, and other stakeholders? What we know for sure is that a company that does not cater products or services tailored to its customers is doomed to self-inflicted euthanasia. A little bit of fear is rarely a bad motivator. What we also know is that the field of knowledge and learning is neither entirely similar to nor different from private enterprise. We, as a community, have been gullible at times, hanging our hats on fads imported from the private sector that had little traction in educational institutions (think of TQM and re-engineering as examples).
The very first meeting of 26 country representatives who met in 1979 vigorously debated what institutional research was. At times, it sounded as confusing and disorientating as building the Babel Tower. There existed a North American brand, but the European IR space had to be contextually re-jigged with time. What was the mission then has remained the mission today, that is, contributing to the professional development of individuals trying to improve decision making in higher education. It stands to reason that the very small strategic mission core has remained/must remain the same but that the changing surrounding environment is where grey matter and leadership must manifest themselves.
Internationalisation, diversity, classroom management, and ethics are prime examples of words whose meanings have changed in the last few years. Today, internationalisation deals not only with curriculum but first and foremost with attracting international students. Diversity does not refer only to individual characteristics of domestic students but to the fair and equitable treatment of the highly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural diaspora of our societies and student bodies. A different classroom management is a result of the first two topics and has huge consequences on learning styles and how multi-ethnic classes perceive the acquisition and the use of knowledge. Finally, ethics crept into our vocabulary as a consequence of the high-profile financial scandals that occurred world-wide in the last two decades and has given us the impetus to build it into knowledge transmission to and character building of our students. There are many more examples that provide a rich menu to explore within our respective contexts.
EAIR has a role to play as an interpreter of important topics, however controversial, and as a vibrant agora of ideas, discussions, solutions, and networking. Remember the “consent doctrine” in democracies: those who govern do so with the consent of those being governed, and those being governed have a responsibility for active involvement and participation in the governance process. Who do YOU think we are?