Is an eager UK academy able to take on the world?

April 26, 2002

There's still a long way to go before UK academia can truly call itself international, says Robin Middlehurst

Academics, institutional heads and government officials would probably argue that UK higher education has always been international. We recruit large numbers of international students, employ staff from a wide range of countries and produce research of international standing. But is this enough to meet the impact of globalisation, when globalisation gets "beyond the experimental stage", to quote Quality Assurance Agency chief executive Peter Williams ( THES , April 5)? The sector is responding to globalisation in a variety of ways: the UK's e-university project and the new "Observatory on Borderless Higher Education" set up by Universities UK and the Association of Commonwealth Universities are two examples. Institutions are joining international consortia (the Global University Alliance or Worldwide University Network, for example) while academics participate in international disciplinary, research and professional networks. Nonetheless, I suggest we need to go much further towards internationalisation, both ideologically and practically, if we are to collaborate and compete globally and deal with the impact of globalisation.

So what's the difference between the two? Globalisation tends to be associated with modern economic trends: the flow of technology, finance, knowledge, people, values and ideas across borders, giving rise in higher education to what has been called the "business of borderless education". For some, globalisation is synonymous with the spread of US economic and cultural power, for others with global environmental changes and the potential spread of social and political conflicts, or the connections between the two. The process of globalisation is changing relationships (between public, private and for-profit education, for example) and is causing new dependencies and interdependencies, opportunities and threats, as many developing countries point out at international meetings. Processes of internationalisation have historically been driven by other rationales, political, social and cultural as much as economic. Today, internationalisation is about integrating an international dimension into the teaching, research and service functions of institutions. Social and cultural dimensions are key.

Jane Knight, a Canadian expert on internationalisation and higher education and author of a paper on the forthcoming round of the General Agreement on Trade in Services negotiations, has recorded approaches to internationalisation within institutions in different countries. These approaches represent stages of development towards internationalisation. They are: * The activity approach. This involves student and faculty exchanges, the teaching of international students and collaborative transnational programmes; it is an approach that many institutions are following

* The competency approach. This includes the development of new skills, knowledge, attitudes and values in students and staff through curricular and training initiatives

* The ethos approach. This is the creation of a climate in which international and intercultural values and initiatives are fostered

* The process approach, in which international or intercultural dimensions are integrated into teaching, research and public service through a combination of activities, policies and procedures.

If institutions are keen to know how they are progressing along this spectrum or wish to understand how to move to another level, they can test and enhance their strategies using the self-assessment and review process developed jointly by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education and the Academic Cooperation Association: the IQRP (Internationalisation Quality Review Process). Universities in countries as geographically far-flung as Mexico, Finland, Kenya, Australia, Poland and the US have made use of the IQRP to enhance the international dimensions of their practice.

My purpose in stressing the importance of "internationalisation" is not to sell the benefits of further self-assessment and review processes, although the use of such tools in other countries highlights the attention that some institutions give to processes of internationalisation. Engagement in self-assessment and review signifies an attempt to stand back from the fray and consider what stance an institution (or sector or region) is taking on international activities in the context of globalisation.

Internationalisation as a response to globalisation is important because of the potential impacts of globalisation on academic life, particularly on teaching and learning. Some kinds of impact are already visible, others less so. Four areas are worth mentioning, starting with the curriculum. In some fields there are calls for more standardised or internationally acceptable curricula as multinational companies react to global pressures. Ford Motor Company, for example, attempts to influence engineering curricula by encouraging international dialogue among deans of engineering through annual international meetings. In other cases, the export of western curricula in the English language - an opportunity for the UK - is perceived by some receiving countries as a threatening form of cultural imperialism or worse, potentially endangering the survival of their underfunded or struggling public-education systems. From an internationalisation perspective, an appropriate response would be to encourage cultural heterogeneity in curricula, not homogeneity and standardisation.

The second area involves a variety of efforts to create greater coordination and harmonisation of structures and regulatory procedures across countries. These efforts touch on the structure of qualifications and programmes (such as the Bologna process in Europe), the transfer of credit between providers (giving recognition for different forms of learning and learning contexts), quality-assurance and accreditation systems, and the mutual recognition of qualifications.

With the blessing of Sir John Daniel, former vice-chancellor of the Open University and now assistant secretary general for education, Unesco has recently established a Global Forum to provide a platform for debate and action across groups and agencies concerned with these matters. As Williams has pointed out, institutions need to be aware of these initiatives.

The third area is "branding", where pressures to compete in international markets produce a similar effect on institutions as on companies. Many of higher education's clients (individual students, parents, companies or governments) are looking for visible global brands as well as international products and services. Some institutions stand out as global brands, and new brands are being created - Universitas 21, for example. What effect should membership of a global consortium have on the member institutions in terms of the internationalisation of their activities, policies and procedures?

The fourth area, skills development, affects staff and students. As Knight suggests, the development of new competences is an important component of internationalisation and a precursor to other levels of international engagement. We may be seduced by the spread of the English language, but the ability to communicate in other languages is also necessary to build the interpersonal relationships that lead to mutual understanding and collaborative possibilities. Employers who operate in global markets may prefer the multilingual graduates produced by our European colleagues to our own often monolingual graduates.

Outside the UK, the sector's international stance is often depicted as predominantly economic. The prime minister's initiative to increase the UK's market share of overseas' students among the four leading English-speaking countries from 17 per cent to 25 per cent by 2005, our involvement in franchises overseas and the commercial stance taken by the e-university initiative all in different ways support perceptions of UK institutions as keen "traders in educational services". Adopting a competence, ethos or process approach to internationalisation would balance such perceptions and enable us to engage more fully in higher education's sociocultural roles: enhancing intercultural understanding, providing access to higher education for the less privileged or helping to rebuild higher education systems shattered by military and political upheavals. In response to the prospective Gats negotiations, the public role of higher education in the 21st century is a hot topic at international meetings. UK institutions and representative bodies should join the debate and promote greater internationalisation in practice.

Robin Middlehurst is professor of higher education in the School of Educational Studies, University of Surrey, Guildford. This article relates to a chapter in S. Ketteridge, S. Marshall, and H. Fry (2002) The Effective Academic , London, Kogan Page.

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