Internationalisation should be about collaboration, says IAU

As the internationalisation of higher education increases competition between institutions, universities risk losing sight of their true academic values, according to a report by the International Association of Universities.

April 26, 2012

The IAU's report, Affirming Academic Values in Internationalization of Higher Education: A Call for Action, was published on 20 April and documents the problems universities are facing. "Competition is in danger of displacing collaboration as the foundation for internationalisation," it warns.

This focus on global competition may lead to scarce national resources being concentrated in one or a few institutions at the expense of a more diverse system, particularly in developing countries, the report says.

"As higher education has in some respects become a global 'industry', so has internationalisation of higher education become, in some quarters, a competition in which commercial and other interests sometimes overshadow higher education's fundamental academic mission and values," it adds.

The report was written by the IAU's "expert group on rethinking internationalisation". The group includes figures such as Jane Knight, adjunct professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto; Olugbemiro Jegede, secretary-general of the Association of African Universities; and Richard Yelland of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's directorate for education.

Other potential problems highlighted by the report include the risk that large-scale recruitment of international students will lead to a "brain drain", the impression that opportunities for domestic students are limited, and the feeding of prejudice about foreigners.

Furthermore, the growth of transnational programmes and branch campuses may mean that host nations do not build their own educational capacity, according to the report.

"Some host nations experience difficulty regulating the presence, activity and quality of foreign programmes," it says.

International partners may be selected based on a desire to gain prestige by association, rather than genuine interest in cooperation, as the pursuit of high performance in rankings grows, and "asymmetry" of relations between institutions can lead to those who are better-resourced benefiting more.

The report stresses that it is not calling into question "the inherent value of [the] internationalisation of higher education". "On the contrary," it says, "the goal of raising awareness of these potential risks among the institutions of higher education is to ensure that action is taken to avoid them."

This could include universities putting academic goals - including learning, research, community engagement and addressing global problems - at the heart of their internationalisation plans, as well as treating international students and scholars ethically and respectfully.

"These values are neither slogans nor vague abstractions," the report says. "They should be applied in very concrete ways to institutional policy and practice."

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