International Strategy for Higher Education Institutions

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Posted on by Vicky Lewis

Inclusive approaches to developing global perspectives

Internationalisation for AllMy last blog discussed the changing nature of partnerships. However, an equally prominent theme to emerge from the interviews for my Global Strategies report was ‘Internationalisation for All’.

Today’s blog explores inclusive approaches to developing global perspectives and enriching the student – and staff – experience, often assisted by digital technologies. It draws on Chapter 10 of my report – UK Universities’ Global Engagement Strategies: Time for a rethink?. (There’s an overview of all the sections and Chapters in the report here).

The pandemic has made it clear that it is possible to have an internationalised experience without necessarily being physically mobile. Interviewees saw opportunities to build on the progress that has been made in experiential and curriculum-based developments that broaden global horizons.

The principle of inclusivity underpins the concept of ‘Internationalisation for All’. Several interviewees observed that the pandemic experience has opened up a space to have conversations about what internationalisation means for the static majority (not just the mobile minority) and suggested that future global engagement strategies would have less focus on physical mobility. One, referring to programme content, suggested that ‘ironically, the content has become more internationalised precisely because we can’t travel’.

Opening up outward mobility

Although outward mobility of UK-based students (whether for study, work placement, field trip, internship or volunteering purposes) was expected to remain a high priority, it was suggested that at least as much energy should be devoted to facilitating international or intercultural interactions for those who are not able or willing to travel.

Interviewees praised the aims of the Turing scheme to widen participation in international experiences to more students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but several noted that barriers to participation are more than just financial.

They suggested the most effective route to broader engagement would be to offer much shorter initial visits than the Turing scheme currently allows. This might include integrated, faculty-led overseas visits for all students on a particular programme or module. However, it was acknowledged that the inclusivity benefits of short-term visits would need to be weighed up against their relatively higher environmental impact.

Curriculum-based developments

Several interviewees highlighted the inclusive opportunities presented by virtual exchange, Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) and virtual internships, making the point that there is often strong grassroots academic support for embedding these activities into programmes. One person observed that technology makes joint student projects possible with ‘a whole bunch of territories that were perhaps considered too dangerous for physical mobility’. It can be a valuable tool, if used purposefully, not just for enriching the curriculum but for fostering global integration.

A few interviewees suggested that curricula should be reconfigured to reflect the interests and concerns of students. Today’s students are often characterised as idealists and activists who value sustainability, social justice and internationalism – and expect these values to be reflected in curricula, extra-curricular opportunities and the wider institutional ethos.

One interviewee felt that the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in summer 2020 provided a valuable (but potentially short-lived) impetus for decolonisation to be embedded.

Enriching the student experience

The student experience was discussed both in terms of all students benefiting from an internationalised experience and in terms of ensuring the experience of international students – from first contact through to alumni engagement – is as rich and valuable as possible. This involves listening to students and finding ways to embed their views and voices in future strategies.

The pandemic has meant that engagement techniques developed over recent years for prospective international students (e.g. virtual tours, virtual open days, ‘taster’ lectures and courses, peer-to-peer advising) have now been mainstreamed for domestic students too. This reinforces the argument that – when it comes to services and support – it is increasingly unhelpful to draw hard distinctions between international and domestic students, since both groups are highly heterogeneous. Personalised communication and support are expected by all, and concerns about health, safety and wellbeing have firmly positioned the parents of international students as a key stakeholder group needing specific reassurance.

The UK International Education Strategy’s focus on supporting international graduate employability and tracking outcomes, coupled with the launch of the Graduate Immigration Route in July 2021, has helped to place global employability firmly on the agenda. One interviewee was concerned about poor UK employment prospects (as a result of the post-pandemic recession) hampering the success of the graduate route. Meanwhile, HEIs have been urged to expand their efforts to equip international students for their future careers, whether they are seeking employment in the UK, their home country or elsewhere. As Maria Gallo has observed, an institution’s alumni are a reflection of their alma mater.

It is also argued that the global alumni dimension needs to be better integrated into institutional strategy. International alumni should be treated as valued partners to be involved in the life of the university community on an ongoing basis, rather than a ‘resource’ to be ‘used’ to the institution’s own ends. 

A global mindset for staff

The development of cultural intelligence and intercultural competencies is as relevant for staff as it is for students.

Some interviewees stressed the importance of fostering a global mindset in all staff (both academic and professional), starting by having open debates about what this means. One interviewee observed that, in some institutions, there has been low exposure of academic staff to the international agenda. There may be few staff with international experience, connections or understanding of the key reputational issues, so there is a need to build confidence, hold awareness-raising events and incentivise opportunities.

Just as digital technology can facilitate international interactions for a wider pool of students, the same is the case for staff. Involvement can be democratised. Sharing expertise virtually (e.g. via conferences and colloquia) was seen as an increasingly central part of global engagement and partnership development.

Even in institutions which see their staff body as internationally aware, it is important that the experiences and perspectives of international staff working at the institution are sought out and valued. Too often, Anglocentric narratives and assumptions have dominated both the internationalisation discourse and the priorities and decisions that flow from this.

Universities currently reviewing their strategies should ask themselves searching questions such as:

  • How can we ensure the views and voices of our diverse students, alumni and staff inform our approach to internationalisation?
  • What investments are we prepared to make in order to extend the benefits of internationalisation to all members of the institutional community?

Report download options

The full Global Strategies report can be downloaded from Global Strategies Report – April 2021.

That page also includes download buttons for the Executive Summary and for an Overview of key questions for HEIs to ask, as leaders develop, review and consult on strategy.

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Pankaj Jain

9 June 2021 at 02:19 (Comment 1 of 1)

Very important findings Vicky. I think all are very relevNt in todays changing environment.

All need to adapt, innovate and focus more on listening to students.



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