Posted on 7 May 2015 at 11:42 by Vicky Lewis
Following last week’s Blog on UK HEI motivations for internationalisation (looking at changes over the last decade), I was reminded of the work done by Vincenzo Raimo and Charlotte Harrison a couple of years ago and highlighted in this Guardian article. Disappointingly, they found that there was still a narrow and short-sighted focus to many university international(isation) strategies.
The critique extends to the UK’s national-level International Education Strategy (entitled International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity), which was published in July 2013 under the auspices of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and described as an ‘industrial strategy’.
The emphasis in this document is squarely and unashamedly on education as an export industry. There is a brief acknowledgement in the foreword by David Willetts MP, then Minister for Universities and Science, that ‘the UK can learn from other countries’ and a reference to the desire for ‘a reciprocal partnership with the UK based upon shared values and mutual respect’. However, the drivers for the strategy are plainly economic and prestige-related.
The tension between the aspirations within the BIS-led strategy to increase recruitment of international students and the Home Office agenda (of cutting immigration to the UK at all costs - even if this means deterring genuine international students) have been highlighted on numerous occasions and remain acute.
Outward mobility merits only three paragraphs within the 62 page Strategy document (with those three paragraphs prefaced merely by the words: ‘We recognise the importance of UK students spending time abroad’ (BIS, 2013)). This aspect of internationalisation does not feel particularly integrated with other priorities, despite subsequent positive developments such as the December 2013 publication of a UK Strategy for Outward Mobility (link to pdf) and creation of the International Unit’s ‘Go International’ programme.
When I was doing my doctoral research back in 2005-07, the UK government (then led by Tony Blair) had just published, via the now defunct Department for Education & Skills (DfES), its first international strategy. It was launched in December 2004 and entitled: Putting the World into World-Class Education.
The observations about this which I made in my thesis (Lewis, 2007) were as follows:
‘An early encouraging sign was the publication of the DfES’ first international strategy… which highlights the need to encourage (from school upwards) a sense of global citizenship. The principles articulated align themselves with those of Lord Dearing’s government-commissioned Languages Review, which reported in March 2007.
These changes represent an encouraging new focus on “internationalisation at home”. Although, for the UK, this remains of secondary importance to “internationalisation abroad”, its relevance is at last being acknowledged.
The gradual shift in governmental mindset is perhaps best evidenced via a remark of Prime Minister Tony Blair when announcing the second phase of the Prime Minister’s Initiative (PMI2) in April 2006:
“Increasingly education is crossing national boundaries as it prepares our young people for careers in the global economy. I am passionate about raising standards in education in our country, but that means that we must be willing to learn from the best in the world. It means sharing experience and knowledge and being open to innovation and creativity from whatever direction it comes.” (DfES, 2006. Prime Minister Launches Strategy to Make UK Leader in International Education, Press Notice 2006/0058 (18 April 2006)).
This declared willingness to learn from others marks an apparent change from the somewhat complacent, Anglo-centric mindset that characterised earlier UK attitudes and is in marked contrast to the economically-driven student recruitment thrust of the first Prime Minister’s Initiative, launched in 1999. It goes hand in hand with a strong emphasis on sustainable international partnerships, which are a key feature of PMI2, and on which Blair elaborates as follows:
“We want to see many more shared research projects, shared courses and joint degrees; we want to see more exchanges of students and academic staff; we want UK education to become genuinely international.” (DfES 2006)’
So far so good. The sentiments sounded like a step in the right direction though the sector remained to be convinced that the rhetoric would lead to genuine change.
For one thing, the different parts of government appeared to be acting in a completely uncoordinated manner.
Views expressed by HEI-based interviewees during 2005 (Lewis, 2007) were summarised as follows:
‘• Institutions felt let down by [the Home Office’s] behaviour vis-à-vis international student visas – a new requirement for paid extensions and an increase in fees, implemented without consultation with the sector
• Institutions felt as if the Home Office was sabotaging or undermining the good progress made as a result of the 1999 Prime Minister’s Initiative
• In general, it was felt that Home Office policies were not joined up with other Government initiatives and were, in some cases, diametrically opposed.’
Further comments included:
‘• We need greater alignment between Government rhetoric (regarding the importance of internationalisation) and policies – and across Government departments….
• The fragmentation of organisations dealing with different aspects of international education at national level is unhelpful.’
Isn’t it telling that the above observations (or something similar) would probably be echoed by those involved in UK HEI internationalisation today, ten years on?
There has been progress and I do believe that most UK HEIs have a broader grasp of internationalisation than they did a decade ago. However, this seems to be almost in spite of national-level strategy (and behaviour) rather than because of it.