‘Ethical internationalisation’ absent from national agendas

International student mobility policies around the world don’t address sustainability or inclusivity, survey finds

September 27, 2019
Brain drain sign
Source: Getty
Off the agenda: national policymakers seem unaware of critical issues

The values of “ethical internationalisation”, including sustainability and inclusivity, are missing from national legislation supporting cross-border student mobility, a survey has found.

International student mobility policies in Europe, North America and Asia reveal little awareness of global citizenship issues in internationalisation among policymakers, concludes research conducted by Adinda van Gaalen, senior policy officer at Nuffic, the agency for the internationalisation of education in the Netherlands.

“I would have expected more policies on these topics,” she told Times Higher Education. “It seems odd, particularly given the mission that higher education institutions have and the fact that we are using internationalisation in general to develop global citizens, which has a lot of values attached to it that include sustainability, inclusiveness and equality.”

Ms van Gaalen presented her research, which examined policies on international student mobility in the UK, Germany and Luxembourg as well as Mexico, the US, Canada and China, at the European Association for International Education’s annual conference in Helsinki on 26 September.

While sustainability and inclusivity do feature in other legislative and regulatory programmes in these countries, they are absent from international student mobility directives, she found.

“I was surprised, especially when it comes to the issue of inclusivity in Europe,” Ms van Gaalen said, noting the importance that the European Commission places on the topic.

“We would have expected national governments to refer to European Union policies and, therefore, also to inclusion. And this tends not to be the case,” she said.

Encouraging sustainability and inclusivity at the national level would help higher education institutions incorporate an ethical agenda into their international programmes, she argued, “particularly if the national government sets the measures to implement this. For instance, if you integrate it into the accreditation scheme, then it might actually set the framework for institutions to be able to address these topics in a more constructive and comprehensive way.”

Putting these topics on a national agenda would be part of the evolution of international higher education, she added.

“Now we’re on to the next level and considering, ‘What are we actually promoting and what are the effects?’ [We’re] not just looking at all the positive sides of it, which are important, but really considering the effects that we would rather not look at but should,” she said.

Issues such as brain drain, social impact and the fact that opportunities to cooperate in internationalisation depend on where universities are located globally are now being talked about, she observed. “Those are the issues that we have overlooked for a long time or we have decided not to discuss, and it’s good that these discussions are increasing.”

Robert Buttery, head of international relations at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, agreed that including sustainability and inclusivity on a national policy level would be a good thing. “I think it reflects the current mood that I’m hearing from young people and students in my classes,” he told THE.

But for any policy to be effective, universities would need the space to implement it on their own terms, he said. “Rather than prescriptive policies, we should be talking about guidelines, and then you can adapt them accordingly to your own institutional needs. [With] prescriptive regulations, I think you will find more resistance.”


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