26/03/2013 10:00 GMT | Updated 22/05/2013 06:12 BST

Internationalisation Must Herald Educational Renaissance

The world of higher education is converging on a common cause. The impact of rapid technological advancement and globalisation has expedited a process of sharing knowledge and breaking down barriers internationally across the sector.

Knowledge partnerships can shape global understanding of the past while offering access to vast swathes of new information to international academic and research communities.

The world of higher education is converging on a common cause. The impact of rapid technological advancement and globalisation has expedited a process of sharing knowledge and breaking down barriers internationally across the sector.

This common cause was recently debated in Dubai by over 1,000 global leaders in education at the Going Global conference, hosted by the British Council.

It is a timely event: technology today means that the acquisition, development and dissemination of knowledge can be a truly international phenomenon. It is already changing the face of education, creating fantastic new opportunities for collaboration and exploration. Knowledge is global and people's needs and aspirations are echoed and mirrored from one region to the next. National institutions can now work together across geographical boundaries with increasing ease.

The British Library has a natural interest in this trend. Much of its archive material has global significance and attracts researchers, curators, academics and historians from around the world. And while its collections are of clear educative relevance, in some cases they have not been deeply explored at all. Enabling new audiences to access the information is a natural and hugely welcome development.

Thus one of the most important themes of internationalisation in education is that of 'knowledge partnerships'. The Library's collections provide a much needed historical depth to sharing knowledge through partnership, regardless of discipline.

At the heart of this process is technology, and specifically digitisation.

The British Library-Qatar Foundation partnership is one such example, and represents a step-change in global knowledge partnerships. The partnership will digitise half a million pieces of archive material pertaining to the Gulf, creating an online educational resource that will be available to a diverse range of audiences anywhere in the world.

Our collections reveal too that knowledge partnerships are no stranger to us culturally: some of the material we are in the process of making available - monuments of learning produced in the great medieval centres of the Middle East - reveal the extraordinary diversity and intellectual richness of centuries-old dialogue between East and West in science, philosophy, religion and the arts. Modern education must take advantage of these new opportunities in the same way.

Previously uncharted research into Arabic science and Medieval Gulf history will soon be possible. The partnership will both push research into new directions, and pull academic communities together. It will provide research and education tools relating to social, political, economic, scientific and historical content spanning from the Middle Ages to the present day, while the digitisation process will enable us to mark all content with intelligent meta data, enabling researchers to make links and observations quickly and effectively.

Furthermore, the process is being completed in both Arabic and English. Language should never be a barrier to learning and it is incumbent on today's leaders in education to ensure it is not so.

It is clear how, as higher education institutions increasingly pursue internationalisation, the emerging presence online of globally distributed holdings of historic content will outline astonishing possibilities for new collaborations and partnerships. While the process raises questions about the changing nature of higher education, clarifying that role will define whether education's modern renaissance will flourish.

The question for knowledge partnerships such as that between the British Library and the Qatar Foundation is how to ensure that new resources cascade into teaching and research communities around the globe effectively. And, in so doing, how we balance the interests, needs and concerns of key stakeholders, from users to partners and also other libraries, both in the UK and abroad. That is the part we can play.

It is a formidable challenge and a unique opportunity for the sector. As global education becomes more fluid, and increasingly international in flavour, so knowledge partnerships can underpin its long term success.