Sunday, May 10, 2020

Towards a different model for internationalisation

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
In the wake of the current crisis, internationalisation in higher education would seem to have ground to a halt. With international travel virtually impossible and unlikely to recover any time soon, the numbers of students studying abroad or applying for exchange programmes look likely to evaporate, at least for the coming year. This in turn puts enormous financial pressure on institutions who are heavily dependent on fees from incoming international students. International student and staff exchange programmes like the European Erasmus+ will also be on hold as long as borders are closed and international flights are cancelled. At the same time, the present global crisis shows clearly that global problems require global solutions making it all the more important that all students get experience in international collaboration. If physical mobility is going to be increasingly limited, particularly due to its environmental impact, we need to rethink our approach to internationalisation with virtual exchange as the norm rather than the exception. Of course it's not the same as travelling and meeting people face-to-face but it's a much more inclusive practice and can be implemented across the board.

An article in University World News, Is the pandemic a watershed for internationalisation? takes a critical look at traditional practices and looks forward to a new and more inclusive approach to internationalisation. Physical mobility has always been an exclusive activity.
Clearly, international travel is elitist: it is only a possibility for a minority of students and in terms of outbound students from the Global North, these are often white, female and economically advantaged. ... In short, while mobility has enormous potential as a transformative educational experience, it is an exclusive activity and its impact on individuals is variable.
Traditional mobility will not disappear in the future but it will simply not be viable in the long term.  The last two months have shown us that most educational activities can be carried out digitally, in many cases as well or even better than in a physical space. More people will question the necessity of a physical meeting if the same can be achieved digitally. International conferences and projects can become truly global if they are online and potentially opening up to all those who could never afford to attend the physical equivalent. Digital collaboration with partner institutions is already increasing and will surely increase sharply after the crisis is over. The term global learning is presented as one way forward, meaning that the curriculum is global by default..
The term global learning, as defined by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, for example, provides universities with a way of conceptualising and developing a curriculum that engages all students in “the critical analysis of and an engagement with complex, interdependent global systems and legacies … and their implications for people’s lives and the earth’s sustainability”.
Another aspect of the new internationalisation is widening engagement with the local community where in many countries there is a diverse and multi-cultural society, something the article describes as a pedagogy of encounter.
A pedagogy of encounter is a powerful concept because it does not rely on mobility. There are many opportunities to engage students in intercultural and global learning in class, on campus and in local communities. Thanks to large-scale global migration in recent decades, as well as the widening participation agenda, in many countries ‘local’ students are more diverse than they have ever been.
A globalised curriculum is certainly possible and there is technology to enable it. The big question is whether we have the will and the vision to move in this direction. I suspect after the current crisis there will be a massive demand for a return to business as usual. Physical mobility programmes are familiar territory, easily measured and very visible. A globalised curriculum involves developing a new mindset among teachers, students and management, is much more complex to implement and is harder to quantify and showcase. I love the vision, let's see if we can learn all this.

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