Thinking about the wider dimension of internationalisation
“It’s clear that too often internationalisation within our universities is too narrowly defined as the inward mobility of international students, and then generally only for the economic benefit they bring”
Vincenzo Raimo, pro-vice-chancellor (global engagement) at the University of Reading, reflects on conferences he has attended, and asks what higher education leaders can do to broaden their perspectives on internationalisation.
The recent International Higher Education Forum was a mix of the practical: how to develop partnerships in India; the commercial: how to segment your student recruitment markets and improve return on investment; together with a dash of inspiration towards the end of the day from Professor Bertil Andersson, President of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, who is able to “smell” the success of his strategy by walking around his campus and by speaking to his very international mix of staff and students.
Internationalisation is at the very heart of an institution like NTU. It doesn’t need a separate internationalisation strategy, the university’s strategy is international at its core with, as Professor Andersson put it, “all staff playing the role of Vice President for Global Engagement”.
Despite Professor Andersson’s inspiration and IU Director Vivienne Stern’s warning that we shouldn’t be “dozy” or “sleepy” in the development of our strategies, the topics discussed at the IHEF and the conclusions reached were remarkably similar to those from other international higher education conferences I have attended over a career of some 20-years aimed at internationalisation professionals like me.
“Professionals like me might do well to attend some SHRE events which give a very different perspective on the internationalisation debate to the one we typically encounter”
The focus of such events is quite different, even if the aspirations of the international university are the same, to those conferences aimed at academics, teachers and researchers in higher education theory and practice such as those run by the Society for Research into Higher Education and its International Research and Researchers Network. I may be a Pro-Vice-Chancellor and have spent a life time in universities, but I’m not and never have been an academic. I’m a bureaucrat, a manager and (I hope) a leader in aspects of university internationalisation. Professionals like me might do well to attend some SHRE events which give a very different perspective on the internationalisation debate to the one we typically encounter and mostly found at the IHEF.
Last year I attended an SRHE event where we heard from Professor Anna Robinson-Pant of the University of East Anglia on internationalisation as a lens on the marketisation of higher education. Her work on how agents see themselves and the roles they play in supporting students to study in UK universities is quite different to my own work more focussed on the commercial nature of those relationships. And we ended the day with a discussion led by Professor Sue Robinson of Newcastle University, about what internationalisation in UK universities really means and whether we have lost sight of what it’s all about.
Of course, “what it’s all about” might be quite different from where you sit within a university, but it’s clear that too often internationalisation within our universities is too narrowly defined as the inward mobility of international students, and then generally only for the economic benefit they bring.
We must not forget how important the economic driver is, but if we want longer term sustainability then we need a more encompassing approach which thinks about the curricula and our environment and how relevant they are to the communities of staff and students we welcome to our universities, and how they and we support all of them in developing a wider perspective on the world. This is often the ambition for our research, but it should also be the ambition for our teaching and university environments.
Professor Robinson outlined the Higher Education Academy framework for looking at what she called ‘dimensions of internationalisation’, with culture at the heart linking values, knowledge and activity through people, context, place and programmes. We debated whether the term and notion of ‘cosmopolitanism’ as outlined by Lilley, et al might be a better term to use and lens with which to look at these issues. I have to admit to being sceptical. There is a great deal of positive talk about internationalisation of UK universities. I actually think we know what needs to be done – we’ve been talking about it for long enough – and our strategies usually say what needs to be done. The reality of implementation and short termism is what often holds us back.