Globalisation: contents and discontents

Conference hears Western domination must end to achieve internationalisation, writes John Morgan

March 17, 2011

The internationalisation of higher education must no longer be dominated by Western needs, should include regions such as Latin America and Africa, and see students as more than "a unit to be manipulated".

These were among the arguments made by a panel of experts at the British Council's Going Global conference in Hong Kong last week.

The conference, themed World Education: the New Powerhouse, was attended by more than 1,000 delegates from 68 countries.

John Hudzik, former vice-president of global engagement at Michigan State University, argued that there would be a "paradigm shift" in global higher education.

Beginning a roundtable discussion on whether internationalisation was an "unattainable dream or sustainable reality", he said international missions would become "imperative" and "pervasive" for universities, but would increasingly be judged on a cost-benefit basis.

Professor Hudzik, a former president of Nafsa: Association of International Educators, predicted "comprehensive internationalisation" involving "all students and managers, all faculty and staff" that would shape institutions' "ethos, vision and values".

But Michael Hoey, pro vice-chancellor for internationalisation at the University of Liverpool, which has a campus in China, likened this vision to the Sermon on the Mount: "A wonderful picture of how humans might be...and almost impossible to achieve."

Higher education is a "follower not a leader" of globalisation, Professor Hoey said.

"Internationalisation is not inherently a good: it is only a good if we are absolutely clear about our motives for doing it," he added.

Universities should focus on research and the experience of students, who were "not just a unit to be manipulated" and who had different needs in different regions around the world, he argued.

Professor Hoey also called for a focus on multilingualism, which could be a vital source of skills for students in regions where there are few natural resources.

"Internationalisation isn't just what the Western world does," Professor Hoey said, adding that "we shouldn't encourage the English to believe that English speakers are the world, to believe they are the only language in town".

Michael Stone, secretary general of Hong Kong's University Grants Committee, said that not all types of institution could engage in internationalisation, and that governments and national organisations had vital roles to play through immigration and work rules.

For Eva Egron-Polak, secretary general of the Paris-based International Association of Universities, the focus must be on internationalisation "as a way to improve the quality of higher education".

She warned that regions such as Africa and Latin America were not regarded as priorities for internationalisation by universities in the rest of the world, adding that regional disparity was "a very serious concern".

Although developing nations often welcomed universities from the developed world as a way to provide student places they could not supply on their own, Ms Egron-Polak said, in some cases internationalisation "can in fact undermine local capacity".

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