International Education Strategy and Marketing

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Posted on 12 Jun 2019 at 15:17 by Vicky Lewis

Looking outwards

In my last blog post, Through the Looking Glass, I presented a different perspective on university internationalisation. One where university leaders treat internationalisation not as an inward-facing process that will make their institution more famous, wealthier Looking outwardsor – in some way – ‘better’, but as an outward-looking lens through which the institution can explore and strengthen its role within the global ecosystem.

Although many UK HEIs still take a fairly parochial, silo-ed approach to international strategy development, there are indications that some university leaders are starting to expand their vision.

As always, the national strategy lags well behind the thinking of those institutions that are in the vanguard.

One problem at national level (which echoes the challenges at institutional level) is that different departments have different agendas. Efforts are at best fragmented, at worst pulling in different directions.

Setting the tone at national level

The agenda embraced by the Department for Education and the Department for International Trade (joint owners of the UK’s 2019 International Education Strategy (pdf)) is maximising education exports (and there may finally be a fighting chance of making progress with these if Jo Johnson’s proposal to reinstate the two-year post-study work visa is implemented).

Yes, there are elements of the strategy which are ‘softer’ – ensuring our international students are well-supported, encouraging domestic students to spend time abroad – but they come across as a means to that hard financial end. And, yes, the strategy does include parts of the sector other than HE, but only insofar as they have export potential.

It is disappointing, but not at all surprising, that the exhortations from across the UK HE sector at the 2018 International Higher Education Forum in Nottingham, have gone largely unheeded. I noted at the time that ‘the calls were loud and compelling for a new, joined up international strategy for UK HE, with a broader focus than previous, largely economically driven strategies’.

As has been said before, what we have ended up with is a perfectly sound Education Export Strategy, but not an International Education Strategy.

Alternative approaches

So what would a true International Education Strategy look like? For starters, it would highlight the importance of ‘Internationalisation at Home’ – the curriculum, internationally relevant learning outcomes, foreign language learning, the need to develop globally competent graduates.

As well as going broader, it would go deeper: tackling all education levels (especially the compulsory stages) because the seeds of internationalism need to be sown early.

Tagging on some study abroad opportunities for those who make it to university is too little, too late, for too narrow a segment of the population. As Robert Coelen highlighted in a 2017 University World News article, internationalisation should start at school.

There is fascinating initiative in Japan, where internationalisation is happening at every level of the national education system. The aim is to cultivate 100,000 ‘Global Jinzai’ (globally competent citizens) per year: young people who can cooperate with those from different cultural and social backgrounds. In order to achieve this, the Japanese government is ‘encouraging schools and universities to join forces and provide their students with learning environments enriched with international experiences throughout… the 16 years from kindergarten through the completion of their undergraduate education’ (for more details, see the EAIE’s Winter 2018 Forum magazine on Unexpected Internationalisation, Investing early in a global workforce, pp.33-35).

Imagine having a compelling national vision, which then flows into a coherent strategic approach encompassing all levels of education.

Back to the future

Some of us may remember the UK government’s (then) Department for Education and Skills’ 2004 international strategy for education, skills and children’s services: Putting the World into World-Class Education (pdf).  

This harks back to a different era (15 years ago) when there was a somewhat different emphasis. I can’t help but quote a large chunk of Charles Clarke’s Foreword to this strategy (with thanks to Elspeth Jones for reminding me just how compelling this vision was):

Developing and maintaining a world-class system begins with understanding the world in which we live: the values and cultures of different societies; the ways in which we are increasingly dependent upon one another; and the ways in which we all, as global citizens, can influence and shape the changes in the global economy, environment and society of which we are part. One cannot truly educate young people in this country without the international dimension being a very significant and real part of their learning experience.

It also means knowing what constitutes world-class educational standards, measuring ourselves against them and matching them. Not simply in terms of measures of attainment, but understanding how other countries have tackled the educational problems, the challenges of supporting children and their families and of the skills gaps that we experience in this country, and where we may have much to learn from elsewhere.

And it means being a global partner. Our education system has a tremendous reputation overseas. We have much to be proud of and much we can offer other countries developing and reforming their own education systems. And there are also real and significant benefits for the UK through building different kinds of relationships in an increasingly interdependent world. We can and should be collaborating for mutual benefit in the hope that not only UK citizens but all people across the world will have the educational opportunities, the family support and the skills development that enable them to participate fully in a global society.

It means, in short, putting the world into the world-class education to which we aspire.’

Of course, having a different kind of strategy wasn’t a panacea. There were failings in implementation. One of the ‘priorities for action’ was ‘to transform our capability to speak and use other languages’, yet 2004 was the year when languages became optional at GCSE level: a mistake which has cost us dearly in so many ways.

However, the vision itself is as relevant today as it was then.

Then and now

Going back to my opening remarks, the 2004 strategy seemed largely about exploring and strengthening the UK’s role in the wider world (a process which includes learning from others as well as sharing our own experience).

It is in marked contrast to the tone set by the 2019 strategy, whose Foreword highlights areas such as income generation, challenging our competitors, exploiting the UK brand, and strengthening national security. A somewhat inward-facing, even parochial perspective, with ambition pegged to narrow economic targets for the UK rather than encompassing broader aspirations to work collaboratively with others to make the world a better place.

And, of course, there are parallels at institutional level.

Can individual HEIs see beyond the constraints of the national strategy and develop more far-reaching organisational strategies that (to butcher the famous JFK quotation) ‘ask not what your world can do for you – ask what you can do for your world’?  

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