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This event has been co-designed by the IRR network convenors (Emily Henderson, Miguel Lim, Josef Ploner) and Holly Henderson, based on her SRHE-funded project on island-based higher education.
A number of assumptions about higher education are thrown into relief by the context of the small island. In a paradox widely recognised in islands studies research, the physical boundary of the sea both complicates and necessitates connections with other surrounding islands and with larger mainland countries. For higher education, this interplay between isolation and connection leads to questions ranging from the role of higher education in student mobility and the inward and outward migration of young people, to those of connections between higher education and local employment markets, to issues of governance, policy and finance for islands managing independence alongside relationships with nearby mainland nationalities, and the positioning of local higher education institutions in global marketised systems. To ask these questions is to highlight the different considerations that structure higher education beyond the urban mainland campus, along with the tendencies of discourses of higher education to position the campus in the urban centre as the given geographical higher education context. Defined according to this geographical logic, the small island is ‘remote’; this seminar seeks to re-position the small island as central to discussions of the geographical assumptions that underlie higher education.
Motala-Timol (Higher Education Commission Mauritius)
Re-centering the geographies of higher education through a focus on small islands
This presentation will introduce the key themes and issues of the seminar, drawing on literature from higher education mobilities, social geographies and island studies to set out the multiple contexts of small island higher education. Engaging with current questions in higher education scholarship such as student migration and mobility, decision-making and national and international institutional relationships, the presentation will re-position these debates from the perspective of small island higher education.
Holly Henderson’s research and teaching focus broadly on sociological issues of inequality in education. In particular, she is interested in access to and experiences of post-compulsory and higher education, and her research is theoretically informed by social geographies which enable analysis of the ways in which place, space and mobilities structure educational possibility.
2) Insularity and internationalization: the case of Mauritius (Motala-Timol, Higher Education Commission, Mauritius)
The presentation focuses on the major shifts in the higher education landscape in Mauritus in the last two decades, and the opportunities and challenges of insularity on the development of the higher education sector and internationalization.
Dr Shaheen Motala-Timol heads the Regulatory Affairs and Accreditation Division of the Higher Education Commission, Mauritius. Her research interests center on cross-border higher education and internationalization in developing countries, and on quality in higher education.
3) Higher Education and Career Pathways in Small Islands (
Although access to Higher Education is typically understood as a means of reducing youth migration from island communities, this presentation will explore some of the complexities of higher education and mobility as they relate to small island communities. Drawing on recent research with higher education students from the UK islands of Orkney and Shetland, the presentation will demonstrate that young people’s mobility pathways are much more complex than a simple binary of staying and leaving suggests. Further, the presentation will argue that understanding of higher education choices and mobilities requires detailed attention to the impact of different specific career pathways.
Rosie Alexander is a Senior Lecturer (Research) at the University of the Highlands and Islands, and an Associate Lecturer in Career Guidance at the University of the West of Scotland. She specialises in research into career transition, education and guidance and the relationship to place. Twitter: @Rosie148
4) Remoteness Re-defined (
The turbulence of the Covid-19 pandemic has and continues to change the way the world works, including higher education. The university ‘experience’ has been largely de-coupled from the study experience. This surely throws new light and new approaches to higher education on small islands.
Gail Corrin, HE Manager, University College Isle of Man. Research interest is ‘we need more research in our lives’. Gail is not specifically attached to any research interests but is committed to expanding the role of research in public and private life through UCM.
5) Higher Education in two small island territories – institutional challenges (
This presentation will briefly introduce the small state universities of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Furthermore, the presentation will focus on the main challenges to provide solid higher education on a weak institutional basis. The presentation draws on the presenter’s decade-long work in the Faroes and Greenland (two Nordic Atlantic/Arctic independent territories within the Danish Kingdom). The focus is on the experiences in implementing a context-based social science master’s programme.
Gestur Hovgaard is a Faroe Island professor of Social Science and works as Head of Institute at University of Greenland. Based on a practice-oriented and post-disciplinary social science, one of his diverse research interests is the challenges that small island universities face in an increasingly globalised and competitive Higher Education environment.