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Internationalisation must be on- and off-campus

Universities across the world have identified internationalisation as a key strategy for diversifying campuses, increasing research collaborations and developing cross-border partnerships.

In Canada, the internationalisation strategies of most universities now include specific plans to increase international student recruitment.

However, while many universities have poured resources into achieving this goal, many still have a lot of work to do when it comes to adding an international component to curriculum development, ensuring faculty members have the necessary skills to teach diverse classes, and working with local business, government and community leaders to internationalise external communities.

With the international student population increasing in Canada, and with talk about international students as potential immigrants gaining steam, universities have to embrace a holistic approach to internationalisation that aims to improve international students' experiences both on- and off-campus.

Internationalising the curriculum

Internationalisation of the curriculum should be a central focus of universities.

There are currently more than 193,000 international students in Canada. The top three sending countries, according to the Institute of International Education, are China, South Korea and India.

While some of these students struggle with language and other socio-cultural challenges, it is important to note that they also bring a lot of strengths with them to Canadian classrooms.

Adding an intercultural component to the curriculum, in terms of identifying the development of global perspectives as a desired learning outcome, and broadening course content to include international knowledge sources, not only creates a more welcoming classroom for international students but also the conditions that empower them to share their experiences with their classmates.

The incorporation of an international component into the classroom is beneficial to international students, domestic students and faculty members. Encouraging students to work in multicultural groups allows them to develop the skills they will need in order to function as part of a diverse workforce.

Moreover, internationalising the classroom, especially incorporating knowledge from around the world, creates an inclusive atmosphere that readily welcomes the participation of students who may otherwise feel marginalised and disempowered in a non-internationalised classroom.

Because students bring different strengths, internationalisation of the classroom creates conditions that validate the right of every student to participate. Inevitably, internationalisation of classrooms empowers all students and lays the groundwork for serendipitous exchanges among them.

However, the reality is that the ability to teach diverse groups of students does not come naturally to everyone. Like any other skill, its development requires time and personal commitment.

Therefore, universities should encourage, provide incentives and reward faculty members who invest time in teaching development courses and workshops, much in the same way that they currently encourage and reward faculty conference attendance and publications.

In this respect, the implementation of internationalisation, particularly as it relates to the teaching of diverse groups of students, requires a slight change in higher education culture – one that elevates teaching to the same level as research.

Given the central role faculty members play in the development of students, making sure academics are up to date on best teaching practices about managing diverse classrooms should be part of the internationalisation conversation. This is good for domestic and international students alike.

Multicultural societies

University internationalisation objectives that encourage faculty members to remain up to date on best practices in teaching to diverse classrooms are good for domestic and international students alike.

Migration is turning most Western countries into multicultural societies. For instance, Canada currently takes in an annual average of 250,000 permanent residents every year and an additional 200,000 temporary workers and international students.

Because of the influx of immigrants and international students from around the world, domestic and international university graduates not only have to be competent in job-specific skills but also now have to be able to relate to people from different cultural backgrounds.

Simply put, intercultural competency is no longer just an academic idea but a necessary skill for a multicultural workforce.

With plans to increase the number of immigrants and international students in place, it is not far fetched to say that in the near future student graduates will need intercultural competency to apply job skills in the workforce.

Hence, making sure that faculty themselves are interculturally competent and are able to pass on those skills to students is great for students’ development in the classroom as well as their development as future workers in an increasingly globalised world.

While internationalisation of the curriculum and instruction represent important initiatives to create more welcoming campuses for international students, universities should also not forget about off-campus communities.

The reality is that international students eventually interact with people off-campus. They work and live in external university communities. For example, Canada issued more than 16,400 off-campus work permits in 2010.

Moreover, international students contribute over C$6.5 billion (US$6.5 billion) to the Canadian economy in tuition, living and other expenses. It also is important to make sure employers and landlords are interculturally competent, since discriminatory practices off-campus may play a part in students' decisions on whether to stay in a country or go.

For this reason, adopting a holistic view of internationalisation that centralises the importance of internationalising on- and off-campus communities is an unavoidable step for creating welcoming communities for international and domestic students.

Because of this, universities may have to form closer relationships with business, government and community leaders to gain access to influential gatekeepers who can help create and implement policies and programmes that promote welcoming workplaces, businesses and communities.

* Abu Kamara is a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University in Canada, with interests in internationalisation, international students, intercultural education and identity politics.
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