BY FRANCISCO MARMOLEJO*
*The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.
|FRANCISCO MARMOLEJO is the World Bank’s global lead of tertiary education and, since July 2016, he has also served as the lead education specialist for India, based in Delhi. In his capacity as the World Bank’s most senior official in tertiary education (also known as higher education in several countries), he serves as the institutional focal point on this topic, and provides advice and support to country-level related projects that the Bank has in more than 60 countries.|
International higher education is facing a challenging and also promising time. On one hand, the traditional set of assumptions about the importance of international education usually made by its promoters is being challenged in a geopolitical context of increased isolationism and nationalism. On the other hand, such a concerning environment is both a wake-up call and an opportunity to widen the benefits and relevance of international education to a larger number of students, and to more effectively connect the global and local outreach agendas of colleges and universities.
Higher education is increasingly internationalized, with a student body that is more mobile than at any other point in contemporary history and curricula that are increasingly multicultural and global in scope. The progress has been remarkable and, in fact, until recently, most discussions in the field of internationalization have been focused on its dramatic expansion, diversification, and increased level of sophistication. In a way, it has been taken for granted that some global consensus exists about its unquestionable importance and about the relevance that it has in the future landscape of higher education across the world. This internationalization of higher education, as it is known, has been taking place at a breathtaking speed, and for many in the higher education community, the optimism and forward-thinking approach that it has ushered has been most welcome—perhaps naively. After all, who would question that students should have a global dimension on their education? Or that students experiencing internationalization—by means such as studying abroad, learning a second language, or studying a program through a global perspective—would become multicultural, capable, confident, and tolerant professionals and citizens? Who would challenge the idea that, in order to achieve ambitious institutional internationalization goals, colleges and universities should be bold, entrepreneurial, and innovative?
In such an optimistic climate, only a few voices have cautioned about risks (IAU 2012) and excessive confidence (Brandenburg and de Wit 2011). However, as we know, higher education does not exist in a vacuum, and global geopolitical trends inevitably influence classrooms and research laboratories around the world. Also, they contribute to shape perceptions and decisions of institutional leaders and policymakers. In other words, it would be naïve to assume that the complex, intriguing, and disturbing current international context will not have an impact in higher education and, for that matter, on its internationalization.
Even though we don’t agree with them, we cannot ignore the criticism of those questioning the benefits of connecting the world. Some strident voices abound. For some, values such as cultural openness and tolerance are being pitted against “national values.” Even in some cases, colleges and universities have been accused of polluting students’ minds with global ideas that undermine national identity, social cohesion, and local focus (Ariely 2012). Some critics are even questioning the value of international students and scholars, who they claim are taking the place of local students and teachers (Francis 2018), bringing with them foreign ideas, and “stealing” valuable knowledge and well-paid jobs (Sharma 2018; Kaint 2018). Although it can be argued that the aforementioned are just isolated voices, they nevertheless contribute to shaping public opinion and to eroding optimism about international education.
It is against this contradictory and sometimes hostile environment that higher education systems globally must counterargue that, more than ever, an internationalized higher education is the best way to address the formidable global challenges ahead. At the same time, it is a unique opportunity to question whether the building blocks of the traditional internationalization construct are not as strong as imagined. It may be time to take out the higher education internationalization field from its protective “cocoon” and to connect it more directly towards the overreaching challenges faced in higher education and society. Undoubtedly, international education professionals should be mindful of issues apparently far away from the day-to-day tasks of just recruiting foreign students or promoting study abroad programs.
In other words, now is not a time for isolationism or for narrowed solutions to what is clearly an entrenched, global problem, but one with significant local ramifications. Comprehensive internationalization of higher education with a stronger sense of local and global responsibility is desperately needed. The challenges ahead are universal. They are formidable and require higher education graduates who adequately combine global preparedness and awareness with a stronger sense of local community service. To rise to the challenges ahead, our colleges and universities need to be comprehensively engaged in global issues, while also increasingly committed and involved at the local level. The idea of seeing higher education as a key place to prepare students for lives of responsible local and global citizenship (Frederick 2007) should be renewed in the mission and action of our colleges and universities.
International educators must also acknowledge that until now, the push for internationalization of higher education has been largely self-serving, fueled by institutions’ desires to diversify funding sources and, many times, resulting in higher levels of student mobility only for the most privileged. For instance, globally ranked educational institutions explicitly seek to attract and retain highly talented students from developing countries, but few pair such efforts with contributions that develop local capacity in those dispatching countries. Also, by focusing on the “easy road” many institutions have neglected their responsibilities to provide a global dimension, openness, and tolerance to all students, and not only the ones participating in international mobility programs.
Even at the government level, as indicated by Roopa Desai Trilokekar (2017), regional and national internationalization of higher education policies, in many cases, tend to favor (1) societal exclusion (not inclusion); (2) class hierarchy (not equity); (3) political borders (not mobility); and (4) global competition (not reciprocity).
It is critical that we, as a global community, reaffirm the value of higher education and of its international dimension, while also renewing its commitment to more effectively support its relevance and usefulness in the local context. We should not forget that international efforts make sense only if they are relevant in the local context. There needs to be a wake-up call to educators and policymakers on the need to become more innovative and bold in repositioning higher education and its internationalization efforts as central to local development.
The current challenging and intriguing global environment is a great opportunity. As we grapple with the future of higher education and its path forward, it is important to remember that an internationalized higher education—and the skills it can provide people so that they thrive in the twenty-first century—have never been more important, or necessary.
Ariely, Gal. 2012. “Globalisation and the Decline of National Identity? An Exploration Across Sixty-Three Countries.” Nations and Nationalism 18, 3. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9b59/266b6529a36c7300ea9 f31c4aa770669f64a.pdf.
Brandenburg, Uwe and Hans de Wit. 2011. “The End of Internationalisation.” International Higher Education 62. DOI: https://doi.org/10.6017/ihe.2011.62.8533.
Francis, Diane. 2018. “Why Publicly-Funded Universities Should Stop Pursuing the International Student Bonanza.” Financial Post. https:// business.financialpost.com/diane-francis/ why-publicly-funded-universities-should-stop-pursuing-the-international-student-bonanza.
Frederick, Andrew. 2007. “Preparing Students for Lives of Responsible Citizenship: A Higher Education Civic Blueprint for the State of New Jersey.” Dissertation. http://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/slcedt/52.
International Association of Universities (IAU). 2012. Affirming Academic Values in Internationalization of Higher Education: A Call for Action. Paris: International Association of Universities. https://www.iau-aiu.net/ IMG/pdf/affirming_academic_values_in_internationalization_of_higher_education.pdf.
Kaint, Shamsher. 2018. “International Students Should Have no Work Rights: Pauline Hanson.” SBS. https://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/punjabi/en/article/2018/04/09/international-students-shouldhave-no-work-rights-pauline-hanson.
Sharma, Vinnei. 2018. “Indian-Canadians Say International Students ‘Stealing Their Jobs.’” Times of India. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/64920227.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_ medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst.
Trilokekar, Roopa Desai. 2017. “Strategic Internationalization: At What Cost?” Trends & Insights. Washington, D.C.: NAFSA: Association of International Educators. http://www.nafsa.org/Professional_Resources/ Research_and_Trends/Trends_and_Insights/ Strategic_Internationalization__At_What_Cost_/.