International Association of Universities

Building a worldwide higher education community


Intercultural Learning and Dialogue: Higher Education has a role to play

The idea of "intercultural dialogue" takes as its starting point the recognition of difference and multiplicity of the world in which we live. These differences of opinion, viewpoint, and values exist not only within each individual culture but also between cultures.

'Dialogue' seeks to approach these multiple viewpoints with a desire to understand and learn from those that do not see the world in the same way as we do. An effective 'dialogue', therefore, is an enriching and opening interaction which encourages the respectful sharing of ideas and an exploration of the different thought-processes through which the world is perceived and understood. This interaction emphasizes opportunities for broadened and deepened self-knowledge and worldview. As a process, intercultural dialogue encourages an identification of the boundaries that define individuals, and then asks them to relate across those boundaries and even to call them into question.

As an international representative of the universities of the world, one of the IAU's primary functions is to identify and research issues that are of concern and interest to university institutions. In this capacity, the IAU has been working on the issues of globalization and internationalisation for some time, and has also focused specific attention on the Role of Higher Education in fostering intercultural Dialogue. In this context, the Association organises events and participates in Conferences and Meetings on related topics.

Following up on an International Conference organised by the Council of Europe, the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy, the Wergeland Center and IAU in Oslo,in June 2011,the following book has been published:

Cover book 2012 Reimagining Democratic Societies: a new era of personal and social responsibility, by Sjur Bergan, Ira Harkavy and Hilligje van't Land (eds.) (2013): Strasbourg, Council of Europe Publishing - Council of Europe Higher Education Series No.18, ISBN: 978-92-871-7537-3

Reimagining democratic societies, although a demanding task, is one in which higher education must engage. As societies change, our understanding of democracy must also evolve. We need democratic institutions, but also democratic culture and democratic innovation. Citizen participation, as a cornerstone of committed citizenry deeply involved in creating and sustaining diverse democratic societies is essential for human progress democracy, must go beyond citizen mobilisation on just a few issues. The authors – academics, policy makers and practitioners from Europe and the United States – argue this point, making the case for why democratic reimagination and innovation cannot succeed without higher education and why higher education cannot fulfil its educational, academic and societal missions without working for the common good. Case studies provide examples of how higher education can contribute to reimagining and reinvigorating democracy.

It is hoped that this book will inspire others to develop new initiatives to promote Intercultural Learning and Dialogue and education for democratic citizenship around the globe. Follow up events are being discussed.

To order the book, please go to:

IAU Members in good standing can obtain a free copy of this publication by writing to Dr. ****H. van't Land, IAU Director Membership and Programme Development @


Following up on the IAU International Conference 2009 on the role of Higher Education in fostering Intercultural Dialogue, a book has been published:

Council of Europe and IAU Book New: Council of Europe and the International Association of Universities book on the Role of Higher Education in promoting intercultural dialogue

Edited by Sjur Bergan of the Council of Europe and Hilligje van't Land of the IAU (International Association of Universities), Speaking across borders - volume 16 of the Council of Europe Higher Education Series - explores the role of higher education in developing intercultural dialogue in our societies. It complements Intercultural dialogue on Campus (Higher Education series No. 11) and the issue of the IAU journal Higher Education Policy (HEP, vol. 18.4) on the same topic and includes contributions from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and North America. The book demonstrates that education will need to play a key role in developing the ability to conduct intercultural dialogue, which is an integral part of democratic culture. It sets out the political context for intercultural dialogue, explores how universities can become actors of intercultural dialogue and offers examples of good practice from various parts of the world.

To order, please go to:

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