Universities can stem the tide of polarisation between the higher education elite and the wider public by introducing “inclusive internationalisation” strategies that benefit the whole of society, according to a leading international relations scholar.
Alexander Betts, Leopold Muller professor of forced migration and international affairs at the University of Oxford, will tell the European Association for International Education annual conference that universities “must build bridges within our increasingly divided societies” in order for the internationalisation of higher education to be sustainable.
“An internationalisation agenda must have both an outward looking and inward looking focus. It must take a wider public with it - if it is to survive and prosper,” he is expected to say during his opening keynote address, in which he will describe the divide between his own university and many parts of the city it inhabits.
“A couple of years ago, I invited the Lord Mayor of the city to one of our events and struck up a conversation. She confided, as a former head teacher in socio-economically deprived part of the city, that she rarely came to university events, sometimes feeling intimidated,” he will say.
“I later learned that no school in the area of Oxford she comes from – called Blackbird Leys – has had one of its students go to Oxford in over 30 years.”
Professor Betts will suggest three ways in which universities can share the benefits of their internationalisation strategies beyond students and staff: by introducing exchange programmes for the wider public; by introducing “lifelong civic education”; and by informing, consulting or collaborating with the public on research.
He will cite the annual summer school at the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre as an example of how institutions can engage in lifelong civic learning. For three weeks each year, the institute offers 70 people in the UK and across the world the opportunity to benefit from its curriculum and academic staff.
Meanwhile, the creation of a research seed fund and annual prize for public engagement at Oxford encourages collaboration with wider society on research, he will say.
One of his centre’s projects offered training in basic social science methods and presentation skills to around 60 African refugees, for example.
An “inclusive internationalisation” strategy would not only benefit the wider public but also “confer a range of academic, socio-cultural, and economic benefits on our own institutions”, he will say.
“Too often class, race, and religion pre-determine the beneficiaries of internationalisation. But universities can build powerful bridges – and enable internationalisation to serve the many rather than the few,” he will say.
“The architecture of internationalisation stands upon democratic foundations, and it is imperative that we collectively demonstrate that higher education – even somewhere like Oxford - can be more than an elite project.”