May 13, 2005

David Jobbins examines an initiative to encourage undergraduates to consider their disciplines in a global context

Just how broad are your students’ horizons? Are they being stretched to take a world-view of their chosen subject? The Department for International Development wants a global dimension to be integrated into all undergraduate disciplines and is funding a one-year research project to establish how best to achieve its goal.

Global Perspectives in Higher Education, based at the Royal Geographical Society/
Institute of British Geographers in London’s Kensington, aims to build on progress already made in the school curriculum to engage undergraduate degree programmes across the UK.

“Global perspectives” is not the easiest concept to define within the context of higher education. Project officer Jenny Lunn says the initiative seeks to inform graduates of cross-cutting global issues, problems and events.

They must have an understanding of the application of global issues to their own lives; gain an awareness of different ways of thinking about the world; and develop the values, attitudes and skills that will equip them to be informed citizens, voters, employees and travellers.

The project sits amid wider DfID activities, from academic research and funding programmes to conferences, events and websites. Until the project’s launch in October last year, the DfID’s development awareness programme had focused heavily on the school and community level.

Lunn says: “This project represents the Department for International Development dipping its toe into the field of higher education. It is primarily a scoping study, seeking to provide a review of the status of global perspectives in UK higher education as well as raising awareness and interest.”

Ten academic disciplines most closely allied to global perspectives have been selected for the study: anthropology, area studies, business studies, development studies, earth and environmental sciences, economics, environmental studies and environmental management, geography, politics and international relations, and tourism and hospitality.

In the first phase of the project, subject benchmark statements that have been set by the Quality Assurance Agency for higher education were analysed for evidence of a global dimension in teaching and learning.

The analysis was sent to the academics who had chaired the benchmarking panels for feedback and comments.

Lunn says: “This has revealed some interesting information about the different ways in which global perspectives are understood, the variety of methods of incorporating global perspectives into the disciplines, and the process of benchmarking.”

Lists of all the undergraduate degree courses in the UK, together with data on student numbers, show how many students are studying courses likely to have a global content. A short web-based survey sent to heads of department across the ten subjects has provided information on the global content of courses, the perceived importance of global perspectives and the level of internationalised activity in university departments.

“We are interested in more than just subject knowledge and the structure and
content of teaching programmes,” Lunn says. “This is also about what some people are calling the 'internationalisation of higher education’, which includes the wider learning experience - for example, student exposure to overseas visiting lecturers and overseas students, language learning, exchange programmes, overseas fieldwork and research.”

The DfID’s initial “scoping” research will be used to help formulate a range of examples of good practice in the teaching and learning of global perspectives.

In the project’s final stage, the opportunities for, and barriers to, the wider inclusion of global dimensions in teaching and learning programmes in policy and practice will be identified, backed by consultation with sample representatives from disciplinary, institutional and departmental levels.

Academics, from vice-chancellors and deans to teaching staff, will be encouraged to recognise the importance of teaching with a global perspective.

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