International Strategy for Higher Education Institutions

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Posted on by Vicky Lewis

Going Global 2006 (not a typo...)

Going Global 2020June will be a month that includes some interesting-sounding live webinars to replace the British Council’s cancelled Going Global 2020 conference.

In addition to the ‘after the storm’ type sessions triggered by the Covid-19 crisis, there are some familiar (but nonetheless valuable) themes. Topics include: improving employment outcomes in a changing world; diversity, equity and inclusion in HE; the future of transnational education; and reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.   

This morning, I happened be leafing through my DBA thesis, completed way back in the mists of time (2007), long before Brexit, long before coronavirus. The thesis is on ‘integrated internationalism’ in UK higher education and looks at the drivers for and approaches to internationalisation within the UK HE sector at that time (mid-2000s).

Within the thesis, I stumbled across my summary of the 2006 Going Global conference (this was only the second time the conference had run).

Themes from 2006

‘The conference captured and brought to a head a variety of developments in international education, both within the UK and abroad. Key themes emerging at global level were:

  • The need for internationalisation to move from a ‘one way street’ to ‘trade among equals’ – via genuine partnerships and a more responsible approach by wealthy countries.
  • The growth in new types of HE provider and the increase in public-private partnerships (including more flexible modes and models of delivery – both transnational and in an institution’s home country)
  • The need for a ‘whole institution’ / holistic approach to internationalisation (to include internationalisation of the staff base)
  • A focus on ‘internationalisation at home’ – in particular enhancing the employability and employment prospects of all students.

Specific issues which the UK sector was charged to address included:

  • The need for UK students to be more effectively ‘exposed’ to different cultural perspectives and experiences
  • The challenge of widening participation in UK HE to less wealthy international students / those from poorer countries
  • The need to develop long-term sustainable partnerships, rather than look on internationalisation as a quick economic win
  • The need to engage more proactively and collaboratively with continental European neighbours to mutual benefit.’

(Lewis V., 2007. 'Integrated internationalism' in UK  higher education: interpretations, manifestations and recommendations, p.157 (PDF download). University of Bath.)

Time for a change in mindset (again)

When I wrote my thesis, it felt as if the UK HE sector was on the cusp of a change in mindset, with institutions ‘starting to question their rationales for internationalisation and to consider some of the emerging issues of long-term sustainability, two-way partnership and global citizenship’ (ibid., p.160).

Some positive developments have taken place over the last one and a half decades, but the rate of progress in many areas has been pretty slow. It felt more like incremental change than a fundamental rethink of international priorities.

The themes emerging from the 2006 conference are as relevant today as they were then.  

By 2019, it seemed as if global challenges such as the climate emergency and the need to support the UN’s sustainable development goals were starting to shift the internationalisation discourse once again among HEIs.

Some university strategies appeared to be taking a broader and more socially responsible approach to global engagement. I felt hopeful that we might, again, be on the cusp of a change in mindset (one followed through by more far-reaching actions this time!).

The big question is whether the Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath will serve to accelerate the positive changes which were just starting to emerge, or whether it will send some HEIs scurrying back to the familiar territory of unequal international relationships and short-term financial gain.

This will doubtless be a topic of debate at Going Global 2020: Social Distancing Edition.

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