Partners in promoting greater global equality by Sheila Trahar

The following extract is taken from: Sheila Trahar, Partners in promoting greater global equality, University World News, 12 February 2016 Issue No:400. The full article can be accessed here.

It’s tempting to become caught up by what continue to be dominant, neoliberal conceptualisations of internationalisation – student mobility, increased marketisation and competition, world rankings driven by the Global North, the importance attached to publishing in high impact English language journals – the list goes on.

Focusing on such dimensions, we can be forgiven for believing that, rather than being sites for fostering access and developing equity and social justice, universities perpetuate inequity.

Taking student mobility as an example, the majority of those who travel to study in another country – most commonly still one of the Anglo-Celtic countries or Scandinavia and Western Europe – usually need to be wealthy, from a country that is able to provide scholarships or to have been advantaged in their ability to access education, or all three.

The Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program was a sterling example of a programme that challenged this continued stratification of higher education participation. It provided fellowships for those suffering exclusion and discrimination within the Global South, enabling them to study in more economically advanced countries.

The programme thus promoted greater access and equity in higher education – but, unfortunately, it ended in 2013 and, so far as I’m aware, hasn’t been replaced.

So, while I have some sympathy with those who are cynical about any claim for the potential of international higher education to foster global responsibility and social justice, I have a more optimistic perspective.

By articulating how social justice concerns underpin some core academic activities, I strive to show how international higher education institutions can become partners in the development of more equitable societies within and across national borders.

Challenging ‘internationalisation’

As globalisation continues to effect rapid changes across the higher education sector, our understandings of internationalisation ought to be similarly evolving, contextualised and open to being challenged. Importantly, what have been dominant, Anglocentric, ‘Western’ interpretations are being re-theorised by scholars in the Global South and in Southeast and East Asia so that they are more relevant to those contexts.

Integrating an international dimension into all of the functions of higher education, teaching, research and administration, is the common ‘Western’ definition of internationalisation.

If we reframe internationalisation’s goal, in any context, as the integration of a university into the emerging global knowledge and learning network, then this repositioning of the university as learning from the world – as well as dispensing knowledge to it – opens up spaces for genuine exploration of how universities can foster a sense of global responsibility in those who study and work there.

No longer conceptualising internationalisation as a Western, largely Anglo-Celtic, English-speaking paradigm is, therefore, a step towards greater equity and social justice.

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Editor’s Note: Dr Sheila Trahar is Reader in International Education in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. She has published widely in the area of international higher education and intercultural learning and teaching. Her book Developing Cultural Capability in International Higher Education: a Narrative Inquiry was published by Routledge in December 2010, and she has also edited several books and Special Issues of journals.