LAST month's World Education Market 2003 in Lisbon, Portugal, showed “unity in diversity” in the global education scene.
While the US-led war was being waged in Iraq and the frantic battle against the deadly SARS was being fought in different parts of the world, more than 1,500 education professionals and 761 organisations from 68 countries turned up in Lisbon to participate in the WEM 2003 to benchmark current performance as well as strategise for the future.
Although a sizeable turnout, the figures were way below early projections. WEM 2002 attracted close to 2,000 participants from 949 companies and 347 exhibitors from 71 countries and based on its success, both participants and organisers were expecting WEM 2003 to break the record where the number of participants were concerned.
Unfortunately, this did not materialise because of the volatile international climate – the difficult economic circumstances, the Iraq war and threat of more terrorist attacks as well as the onslaught of the SARS virus.
Three delegations from China and exhibitors and participants from South-East Asian countries like Singapore and Taiwan pulled back because of concerns regarding SARS.
And, because of the fear of terrorist attacks, Americans have been wary of overseas travel and hence decided to give WEM 2003 a miss.
Nevertheless, WEM director Elaine Legault said the reduced participation did not have any adverse effects on the event.
“Despite a difficult economic and international context coupled with the outbreak of SARS, we were extremely pleased to see so many dedicated education professionals from around the world committed to attending WEM 2003.
“Everyone was driven by the desire to build bridges between continents and across the many sectors that make up this vast community.
“Many of our exhibitors and participants alike reported that WEM once again delivered the high quality contacts and opportunities it has become known for, despite the reduced number of participants.
“In fact, many commented that they had more time to network, develop partnerships, share best practices and debate issues and future challenges with counterparts from all over the world,” she said.
Asian flavour missing
While the physical absence of some South- East Asian participants was obvious, many participants (from Asia) felt that Asian flavour was also lacking in the conference proceedings.
“The whole event is more focused on Europe and the issues faced by European countries and we felt it was not too relevant to us. It would be good if we could get all the Asian countries together and organise a similar event like this in Asia.
“It would surely be better and more significant to us, rather than listening to issues which are Euro-centric,” commented first-time participant Dr Sanjay Gawande from India's Yeshwantrao Charan College of Engineering.
He also pointed out that some of the statistics on Asian countries presented at the conference were “not accurate”.
“Some of the statistics on India were inaccurate and that was quite alarming,” he said.
Part of a delegation of nine institutions representing the state of Maharashtra, India, Dr Gawande and his colleagues were at WEM to try and market themselves overseas and form partnerships with other institutions.
In response, Legault said the sentiments from Asian participants would be taken seriously.
“We do hope to improve Asian representation in the future and although next year's conference will still be in Europe, Asia will certainly be considered a possible destination to host the WEM.
“As an international event, we do of course aim to get a good balance in terms of themes and experts and I would like to underline that for many of our participants, the conference programme is a true learning experience – to find out about new trends, what others are doing, compare best practices and to help them develop strategies for the future.
“These factors are relevant for delegates from both developed as well as developing countries.
“Every year, we get many suggestions and constructive criticism that help us improve our programme.
“We believe that ongoing dialogue and consultations with our participants is the best way to improve,” she explained.
The annual trade event for education professionals comprises an extensive exhibition showcase of the best and latest in education from around the world; a conference programme highlighting topical issues; as well as networking opportunities to facilitate cross-country partnerships.
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