Is higher education internationalisation sustainable?
At the end of June, researchers, students and practitioners of international higher education from more than 20 countries came together at Canada’s University of Toronto to discuss these two trains of thought, at the “Shaping Sustainable Futures for Internationalization in Higher Education” conference.
Canada is an ideal location for a conference that debates the sustainability of internationalisation as its institutions have faced significant growth in international student enrolments over the past few years.
In fact, as Karen Dalkie of the Canadian Bureau for International Education noted, Canadian institutions have surpassed the government’s target for international recruitment, set in 2014, a full five years ahead of schedule. This phenomenon is not just limited to the university sector, as presenter Alain Roy explained: Canada’s community colleges and polytechnics saw international student numbers double between 2015 and 2017.
This unprecedented growth was on the minds of conference participants, as faculty and staff members discussed the challenges inherent in such unfettered internationalisation.
Different visions of the future
Canada was not alone in discussing these challenges. The conference featured perspectives on internationalisation from around the world, and included research from South Africa, India, Brazil, China, Israel, Croatia and Azerbaijan, among others. Participants had the opportunity to discuss the diverse manifestations of internationalisation in higher education and the multiple possible pathways forward.
One of the conference’s keynote speakers, Dr Chika Sehoole from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, identified one path forward for internationalisation in Africa. He suggested the need for a “redress of asymmetries” in international trade and financial flows as a prerequisite for mutually beneficial partnerships in higher education.
Sehoole pointed to various African regional initiatives as key elements of internationalisation’s future on the continent, including the Association of African Universities and the African Network for Internationalization of Education, or ANIE.
The opening and closing speaker brought a local and global perspective. Dr Jane Knight, of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, outlined two key issues for the present and future of internationalisation: the continuing trend of international programme and provider mobility or IPPM and the emerging framework of ‘knowledge diplomacy’.
According to Knight, IPPM is playing an increasing role in international education. She surprised much of the conference audience by pointing out that over 50% of international students receiving a United Kingdom qualification have done so through IPPM, meaning more international students receive a UK degree or diploma through overseas, franchised or online delivery than through study at UK-based campuses.
However, in a recent review of research on international higher education, studies on international student mobility outnumbered studies on programme or provider mobility by 30 to one.
In her closing remarks, Knight outlined a new area of research at the juncture of international higher education and international relations. The notion of knowledge diplomacy aims at a horizontal two-way process of developing bilateral and multilateral relations through internationalisation.
Knight’s conceptualisation of this approach presents knowledge diplomacy as a counter to soft power, which remains within a competition paradigm and tends to reproduce unequal relations amongst nations.
Concepts like knowledge diplomacy provide a helpful vision of how internationalisation can be a positive force for harmony between nations and institutions as stakeholders work together to tackle large global issues.
Scott Clerk is director of international education at Northern Lights College in Canada. Grace Karram Stephenson is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.