Whose values is internationalisation of HE promoting?

With xenophobic sentiments reaching a feverish pitch across parts of the globe, some scholars are prescribing a heavy dose of internationalisation as a potential strategy for counteracting the social, political and economic ramifications of recent developments in the United States and parts of Europe.

Such a recommendation resonates with some because, in addition to serving as a useful concept for understanding the infrastructures of international education and the experience of mobile scholars, internationalisation also draws life from values that are antithetical to ones that animate cultures of intolerance.

Buoyed by the growing political strength of notions of exclusion, the rapid dissemination of narratives of hate is causing serious concern in academic and social circles that privilege values such as openness to change, universalism and peace. Within the context of internationalisation, a growing number of scholars are throwing their names in the hat of those who are mobilising social, political and economic resistance.

Internationalisation norms

This clash of value systems offers a unique opportunity for us to ask critical questions about the values that underpin and give direction to internationalisation norms and how they came to shape our judgment, attitudes and understanding of internationalisation.

What are the histories of these values and how and why have they changed? Do they vary across and within cultures and do any differences lead to different internationalisation norms? How do we measure learning outcomes as part of value education? What sort of effect would unmasking the value education component of internationalisation have both inside and outside higher education? Finally, are the foundational values of internationalisation simply symbolic?

I will attempt to bridge the gap between the myriad internationalisation definitions that are jockeying for space in the international education discourse.

On the one hand, process-focused approaches, comprising actions such as modification of administration, recruitment, teaching and learning and partnership traditions proliferate in the literature.

On the other hand are competency development techniques that aim to create cultural environments that are open to diversity by underlining critical self-refinement, lifelong learning and engagement with different cultural histories of thought as reliable pathways to intercultural understanding.

I want to suggest here that there is a pressing need to move away from the ‘add on’ model of internationalisation to one that imagines it as a technique or art of education that draws guidance from culture and discipline specific values to produce individuals who think and behave in particular ways.

Even though current definitions of internationalisation are useful for thinking about the structural and functional aspects of international education, there is a tendency to understate and obscure the importance of values to the development of internationalisation norms.

Considering only the strengths of current definitions of internationalisation, the outcome of their application usually leads to an overemphasis on the activities of universities and students without giving sufficient critical attention to the value priorities that define, critique, educate and organise in the name of internationalisation.

Value priorities

Value priorities and cultural histories are the integral forces that shape the development of the different forms of internationalisation.

Relating value and cultural histories to the experience of internationalisation is important for several reasons. First, doing so normalises critical analysis of the value priorities and cultural histories that motivate action in the name of internationalisation.

This is because value priorities have a direct hand in the development of systems of meaning and rationalities that motivate individual and collective actions, that shape how people think about themselves, how they relate to others, their sense of belonging, their fears, their desires to seek out particular knowledge and destroy others, their willingness to change, their tendency to view change as desirable, their belief that self-introspection is a reliable pathway to self-refinement, their rules and procedures for producing and disseminating knowledge, their practices of criticism and the truths they choose to seek, conform to, represent and protect.

As such, highlighting the role of value priorities and cultural histories in the development of internationalisation norms brings into clear focus not only the inner structures of internationalisation but also how internationalisation functions as a mechanism for imparting, institutionalising and perpetuating values.

Overall, imagining internationalisation as a technique of education underpinned by value priorities and cultural histories that can vary among individuals, as well as institutionally and culturally, allows us to become conscious of the practices, rules and procedures that produce and govern internationalised subjectivities and by extension different manifestations of internationalisation norms.

Moreover, the shift to a value-focused understanding of internationalisation increases our sensitivity to gender, race, ethics, inequality, neocolonial and accessibility issues, as any comprehensive analysis of the role of cultural values in techniques of education ought to include a thorough inquiry into power relations and their impact on how people define and relate to their own and other bodies.

Abu Kamara is an education researcher based in Nova Scotia, Canada.Email: