Study abroad follow-up ‘should include all students’

Australian research argues that re-entry programmes focusing only on returnees ‘widens inequity in internationalisation’

September 14, 2018
Group of students
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Activities aimed at expanding learning from study abroad should include all students on campus so as not to “widen inequity in internationalisation”, according to research.

A study based on interviews with Australian academics and students found that university programmes intended to deepen students’ study abroad experiences were largely “ad hoc and isolated initiatives”, which focused mainly on returnee students, rather than on the “collective learning community”.

Ly Tran, associate professor in education at Deakin University and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, who presented the findings at the annual conference of the European Association for International Education, said that such an approach “may contribute to reinforcing the bias towards the more advantaged [students] and widening inequity in internationalisation and in graduate outcomes”.

One of the perceived drawbacks of study abroad programmes, compared with internationalisation at home initiatives, is that they tend to cater to elite students.

An analysis of the UK’s Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey in 2016 from Universities UK International, for example, found that undergraduates from the most affluent families were up to five times more likely to go abroad as part of their degree than less privileged students.

Professor Tran’s research included 52 interviews with academics and Australian students who had undertaken study programmes or internships in Asian countries funded by the New Colombo Plan – an initiative backed by the Australian government that aims to increase student exchange in the Indo-Pacific region.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Professor Tran said that “there is a lack of a structured, coherent and holistic approach to activating, integrating and extending students’ international experiences in the curriculum to enrich learning for all and ensure inclusive internationalisation”.

“In-country learning through study tours and group internships abroad as part of many mobility programmes is valued, but equal attention and investment is needed to nurture and sustain collective learning upon re-entry with peers who travelled and importantly [those] who did not have access to study abroad, so as not to widen inequality in internationalisation,” she said.

The research also found that “where the learning brought home” was taken into account, it was mainly in the form of assessments, such as essays.

Universities should create a variety of channels for students to share their international study experiences, including an “online space where they can share video clips and blogs about what they learned”, and include students as partners in internationalisation at home initiatives, Professor Tran suggested.

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