Universities ‘endanger internationalisation with commercial focus’

Academics argue that universities should measure outcomes that benefit the public during debate on ‘post-truth’ age

May 23, 2017
Cash machines
Source: Reuters
Material world: delegates heard that universities would ‘rather see internationalisation as generating funds than spending funds’

Universities might “kill” internationalisation if their activities are too focused on the commercial benefits, a sector expert has warned.

Nico Jooste, senior director of international education at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa, told the British Council’s Going Global conference that universities were not “prepared” to put enough money into their global activities and would “rather see internationalisation as generating funds than spending funds”.

“We sugar-coat our commercial drives with the word ‘internationalisation’. And in the process, we might just kill internationalisation,” he said.

Speaking as part of a panel discussion in London titled “Is internationalisation dead in a ‘post-truth’ age?”, Dr Jooste argued that there was more to internationalisation than simply recruiting students from abroad.

“These countries that import millions of students from the developing world [who] pay [tuition] fees in the developed world, just imagine if you take 30 per cent of that fee and you set it aside to build relationships with the place that the students come from and develop better scientific mobility. Just imagine what it would do to the world,” he said.

The growing public hostility towards globalisation and immigration, Dr Jooste continued, required universities to “scientifically analyse what we do” in areas such as academic and student mobility and then “communicate that to the wider public”.

“The benefits of internationalisation and global connectedness far outstrip being isolated. Unless we bring the right message, we actually are defeating ourselves constantly,” he said.

John Hudzik, professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University, said that the answer to the question posed in the debate’s title was a resounding “no” – internationalisation was not dead.

However, he added, universities had to focus on what the public wants from internationalisation rather than on the benefits it brings to institutions.

He agreed with Dr Jooste that universities should focus on measuring the outcomes of their activities in this area, such as how they improve student learning and problem-solving, rather than simply counting their numbers of international students and programmes.

“We stay away from measuring outcomes…for two reasons,” Professor Hudzik said. “It’s scary – we may find out that there’s not a lot of good coming out of this that we can document. And the second problem is a methodological problem: how do we do this?”

He also argued that universities needed to implement a “much more inclusive internationalisation” strategy and had to “engage the public much more productively”.

“We talk mainly to ourselves in rooms like this, comfortably in an echo chamber, and we ignore how globalisation spawned real concerns and problems for significant parts of our population. And we’ve dismissed them, the folks who voted for [Donald] Trump and Brexit, as surely uninformed,” he said.

Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, who also spoke on the panel, added that universities needed to think “creatively” about how they reached local communities.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the danger [of a post-truth age], but neither should we be defeatist,” she said. “In a post-truth world, universities are part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: Commercial focus ‘kill’ global activities

Reader's comments (1)

How can universities help people have good lives? How does cross-cultural dialogue add to the mission of fostering good lives? How do we demonstrate the positive impacts of internationalization beyond individual anecdotes? It's a methodological challenge for Higher Ed scholars, yes, but also a marketing challenge for internal and external communicators across American higher education.

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