Staff and students ‘suspicious’ of international strategies

‘Sinister’ internationalisation agendas still too focused on recruiting students, researcher claims

October 11, 2016
Suspicious woman holding candles
Source: Alamy

Staff and students are “cynical” about and “suspicious” of their university’s efforts to become more international, research has found.

Despite institutions believing that international student mobility was not a “panacea” in terms of seeking to internationalise, faculty and students still viewed internationalisation as “all about generating income for the university”.

These are the findings of Alina Schartner, lecturer in applied linguistics at Newcastle University, in her co-authored paper “‘Empty signifiers’ and ‘dreamy ideals’: perceptions of the ‘international university’ among higher education students and staff at a British university”.

Dr Schartner consulted students and staff from a research-intensive university via focus groups and online surveys, and found that both groups believed their institution’s internationalisation strategy was “sinister”.

“Officially, universities in general are pushing to move away from simply international recruitment towards offering other international and intercultural experiences,” she said. “But from my interviews, I got the sense that both groups thought it was all about the money even if they [universities] say something different.”

Asked what indicates an “international university”, nearly 70 per cent of survey respondents cited inward student mobility, while more than 42 per cent pointed to incoming movement of staff, the paper reports. Nearly 40 per cent singled out “international collaboration” as a key feature, while more than a third said that “international/intercultural learning as part of the curriculum” was characteristic.

Dr Schartner said that staff members felt that senior management expected them to engage in such concepts, quoted in her research, as “internationalisation at home” and “global citizenship”, but did not support them in doing so. The paper states that they view these ideas as “marketing jargon” and a “dreamy ideal”.

“They felt that the university could put forward more support mechanisms or some sort of guidelines as to how staff can contribute to the internationalisation agenda,” she said. “I got the sense that they don’t always know what exactly their role is.”

Students, she continued, believed that internationalisation “wasn’t really about them at all” and did not feel “included in the discussion”.

Dr Schartner said students and staff wanted their university to offer “more internationalisation activities” to change their cynicism. Staff suggested providing short-term courses in languages such as Mandarin “so they can have more empathy with their students, [many of whom] are second language speakers of English”, while her paper states that “opportunities for intercultural interaction [between students] should be actively fostered within and outside the classroom through, for example, peer-mentoring schemes”.

“Universities could do a bit more outside the classroom to encourage that interaction. But also inside,” she said. As an example, she pointed to an “internationalising university experience” module, which is now offered to Newcastle undergraduates studying education, in which international students “teach” home students about their cultural backgrounds.

Dr Schartner said that she thought her findings were not limited to this one university and were certainly “transferable across other [British] research-intensive universities, if not all of them”.

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Reader's comments (1)

I appreciate the effort and I can see how lack of communication among stakeholder groups in a HEI can yield such insights. However, after having read the original article, I am surprised that not even 1% of students of the HEI were included as part of the quantitative study. So, do we actually know what students think? Even for the qualitative part, the limitations are quite blatant. As an academic, the final quote in this article is, unfortunately, pure speculation, based on a quite limited study. I hope there are opportunities for the researcher(s) to expand on this 'pilot' and corroborate their findings. The topic is certainly an interesting one.

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