Posted on 27 Sep 2017 at 14:19 by Vicky Lewis
The European Association for International Education (EAIE) annual conference took place in Seville from 12-15 September. For me (and many others), there was one key theme that ran through the conference: inclusivity.
The Strategy & Management Expert Community asked participants in their Feature Session on the Wednesday morning to give a one-word response to the question ‘what will be future trends in society and internationalisation in your opinion?’. A word cloud was generated and the term inclusivity (or inclusiveness, inclusion) featured extremely prominently.
Inclusivity is relevant on various levels. On one level it is about reaching out to new groups in society, helping them to access international higher education and experience learning in, with or about a different culture. This might be through an international curriculum, virtual mobility or physical mobility. It’s about removing barriers so that those for whom an international educational experience was previously beyond reach (whether domestic students from disadvantaged backgrounds or international students for whom the cost of overseas study is prohibitive) can now experience one. It’s about providing international and intercultural opportunities that are embedded within the study experience, not an expensive ‘extra’ for those who can afford it. And this may require us as educators to challenge and extend our own understanding of what an ‘international opportunity’ looks like.
On another level, this is inextricably linked to local, domestic outreach and engagement activity. One of the points that came through loud and clear at the conference was the responsibility that higher education institutions have to reach out to their local communities; to banish perceptions of exclusivity and ivory towers. This goes beyond the imperative to attract students from diverse backgrounds (important though this is). It is about reaching into parts of the community for whom higher education is a foreign land, listening to and engaging with their concerns and perspectives: the concerns and perspectives that were reflected in the vote for Brexit and the election of Trump.
Internationalisation and inclusion are intertwined agendas and have so much in common that they should be addressed in a holistic way by universities. For too long, artificial distinctions have been made between ‘international’ and ‘home’ students. Each is treated as a single homogenous group, though this is clearly not the case. Many domestic and international students share similar concerns and require similar sorts of support and advice. Student services (academic and pastoral) should cater for this and develop support that is tailored to individual needs, regardless of national origin.
Emphasising what students have in common with one another, rather than highlighting difference, is surely likely to forge bonds between them that might otherwise not develop.
Universities should reflect on how best to embrace inclusivity both when engaging with the outside world (particularly with their local community) and when engaging with their internal community of staff and students from diverse backgrounds.