Internationalisation begins with the curriculum

“You can’t have comprehensive internationalisation without internationalisation of the curriculum,” said Professor John Hudzik to a diverse gathering of academics and managers at a recent International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) event in Brisbane, Australia.

Hudzik, author of Comprehensive Internationalisation and a professor at Michigan State University, was in Australia as a guest speaker for the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Teaching and Learning week and the launch of the UQ Global Strategy and Internationalisation plan.

Members of the IEAA Special Interest Group on Internationalising the Curriculum caught up with Hudzik between his engagements. Sitting at a café overlooking the Brisbane River, we invited him to elaborate further on "internationalisation of the curriculum".

Hudzik explained that universities today have to be reminded of their core mission, namely the production of gradates who can live, work and contribute as productive citizens in an increasingly fluid and borderless global context.

“The research agenda is important,” he stressed, but went on to explain that concentrating solely on research is detrimental for all stakeholders because a more balanced approach to the provision of higher education in the current globalised environment is critical to the ongoing sustainability of higher education worldwide.

Discussing his conceptualisation of "comprehensive internationalisation", Hudzik observed that while increasing attention to rankings has caused universities to place significant emphasis on and devote resources to the production of research, the institutions are still responsible for facilitating opportunities for all students to develop global perspectives and intercultural communication competencies.

Echoing earlier commentaries in University World News by Professor Elspeth Jones, Professor Hans de Wit and Associate Professor Betty Leask, Hudzik observed the limited attention paid to internationalisation of the curriculum, and the importance of viewing internationalisation as a significant facet of all students’ learning experiences, whether local, international, mobile or at home.

‘Yes Minister’ approach to internationalisation

The frenetic activity across the higher education sector to build research capability is somewhat reminiscent of an episode of the satirical British sitcom Yes Minister.

In the episode “The Compassionate Society” Jim Hacker, the minister for administrative affairs, learns of a fully staffed and operative hospital that has no patients. When questioned about the situation Sir Humphrey, the leading protagonist, quips: “We don’t measure our success by results but by activity.”

The measures of successful internationalisation utilised across many universities concentrate on input and output factors, often excluding learning outcomes and the student experience. That is, they focus on activity and not results as indicators of quality.

Neglecting to measure the impact of internationalisation on students and concentrating on ‘activity’ while excluding learning outcomes is as satirical as operating a hospital without patients. Universities are in danger of losing sight of their key stakeholders: undergraduate and non-research students.

However, shifting the focus to student outcomes is not without its challenges, as leaders in the field have observed across numerous publications.

False assumptions

As Hudzik acknowledged, it is often assumed that internationalisation intersects with teaching-pedagogy, assessment and learning across different disciplines in similar ways. This assumption is problematic.

In recent editions of University World News, leading contributors have emphasised the importance of faculty-level engagement with internationalisation of the curriculum.

Echoing their concern for a more sustained and strategic move from rhetoric to action, Hudzik stressed the need for wider inter- and intra-disciplinary collaboration, to assist academics in realising the development of global engagement within their curricula.

Hudzik maintains that if institutions are seriously to engage with internationalisation of the curriculum they need to foster an ongoing, pervasive, campus-wide dialogue about the dilemmas this involves.

“You are operating within an institution, but it is a discipline issue. Academic institutions are organisations that have priorities, but academic staff belong to their own idiosyncratic disciplines that have their own standards and the two are not often in sync,” he said.

Referring to his own discipline as an example, Hudzik observed wryly that there are half a dozen really important things that academic staff must do to meet their obligations to an institution, but only one thing they do. They work to maximise their research publications output.

Drawing on his experience, Hudzik noted that academic staff are encouraged and more importantly even rewarded for this. Consequently they place significantly less attention on teaching in the classroom and learning outcomes.

Signs of change

But there are signs of change.

Hudzik talked of universities that are now recognising and acting on internationalisation of the curriculum as part of a more comprehensive approach to internationalisation – UQ is a case in point, he noted, as evidenced in its Global Strategy and Internationalisation plan, which was launched during his visit by Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International) Dr Anna Ciccarelli.

The plan “promotes a university-wide approach to the development and integration of international, intercultural and global perspectives in institutional policies, programmes and initiatives”, including “a commitment, confirmed through action, to infuse international and comparative perspectives throughout the teaching, research and service missions” of the university.

Central to UQ’s vision is embedding opportunities for all students to develop intercultural communication skills and international perspectives on their chosen discipline.

There is no single ‘best’ model of internationalisation, Hudzik stressed, but UQ represents one example of an institution moving to provide all of its students with a broad, internationally relevant education.

Rather than diminishing a university’s capacity to build research and international reputation, internationalisation of the curriculum needs to be part of a strategic, comprehensive internationalisation strategy, a fundamental component and signifier of a university that bridges the local and global domains.

Hudzik concluded the conversation observing that the business of universities is now and will increasingly be cross-border. To be relevant, universities will have to seriously re-engage with the notion that they are also “collegiums of learners at different stages” and not solely for the production of new knowledge.

As such, universities are responsible, in addition to building research capacity, for facilitating opportunities for all students to develop global perspectives and intercultural communication competencies – in other words an internationalised curriculum.

* Dr Craig Whitsed is a senior lecturer in the Centre for University Teaching and Learning at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia, and Dr Wendy Green is a lecturer in higher education in the Teaching and Educational Development Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia.