Universities ‘complicit’ in tarnishing of internationalisation

By failing to defend their international engagement, universities have become tangled in popular revolt against globalisation, says professor

November 1, 2019

Universities have allowed themselves to become caught up in a backlash against globalisation by failing to defend their international outreach activities from populist attack, a professor has claimed.

Michigan State University political scientist John Hudzik said that institutions have failed to adequately challenge claims that they were neglecting their local communities by engaging internationally.

This has implicated universities in a grass roots perception of globalisation as a threat to people’s livelihoods, he said.

Professor Hudzik said that universities had failed to highlight the distinction between their internationalisation activities – foreign outreach, collaboration with foreign partners and recruitment of foreign staff and students – and globalisation, which some people dismissed as “a bunch of bad people outside the country doing naughty things to us”.

“There’s a real danger of [the two concepts] being conflated. [That] means public support for higher education institutions being internationally engaged, for all the right reasons, has fizzled,” Professor Hudzik told Times Higher Education.

Professor Hudzik, formerly vice-president for global engagement and strategic projects at Michigan State, said that international engagement, like basic research, could engender unexpected spinoffs. What researchers did abroad could have applications at home, and vice versa.

“It’s not a zero-sum game. You have to have access to those global pathways of ideas, innovation and talent,” he said.

Universities’ international engagement is under attack in Australia as well as the US. In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into national identity, University of Wollongong political scientist Greg Melleuish warned that the country’s universities had “failed in their national responsibilities to the Australian people by viewing themselves as…international in nature”.

“Australian universities were established…to serve the national interest,” Dr Melleuish wrote. “However, they have come to see themselves as primarily international in their loyalties [because] they want to rise in the international rankings and attract as many students from foreign countries as possible.

“One consequence…is that increasingly the world of academia in Australia is not interested in promoting the study of things Australian. In fact, it is positively disadvantageous to have an Australian focus to one’s research, especially in the humanities and social sciences.”

Professor Hudzik said he sympathised with Dr Melleuish’s view. “When you go headlong into an effort to achieve an improvement in your global rankings, you’re playing by those criteria, not [addressing issues] that are necessarily important to your community,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t need peer-reviewed research, but we need the other side of it too.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Universities are ‘failing to defend global outreach’

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