The road less travelled to internationalisation of HE

Research tells us that academics find it difficult to engage with the process of internationalisation of the curriculum for various reasons.

First, they tend to find the concept too abstract and struggle with how they can put it into practice.

Second, they sometimes view it as an external or unnecessary demand imposed by their institution, pressurising them to respond to the realities of a ‘globalised’ context.

Finally, like any other curriculum work, internationalisation of the curriculum is a long and complicated process requiring hours of work on their part. So why would they be motivated to engage? And why should they be motivated if the local context doesn’t provide obvious reasons to internationalise the curriculum, such as the presence of international students on campus?

A contemporary approach to curriculum design

In the framework of my doctoral research, I have taken the road less travelled into the study of curriculum internationalisation and rediscovered its pragmatic, creative and intellectual powers as a contemporary approach to curriculum design. My research is set within the context of an Israeli college that has no international students on campus and a minimal amount of outgoing student mobility.

This unique context offers an opportunity to study the value of the process in its ‘purer’ form, without the obvious, external factor that typically drives it: massive student mobility. The research is an in-depth, qualitative examination of the journey of three academic teams into the process of internationalisation of the curriculum. The study records their responses, motivations, interpretations and enactments of internationalisation of the curriculum in their respective academic disciplines.

The results show the powerful role of internationalisation of the curriculum as a change agent for academic teams on several levels. They demonstrate that academics are motivated to embark on the process for the purposes of empowering their home student population, and that different academic teams gravitate towards it for various instrumental reasons.

Some see it as an opportunity to reposition themselves as innovators on campus; others see it as a platform through which they can add greater clarity and quality to their academic programme and some are attracted to the pure intellectual exercise and deep reflection it offers.

Nobody in this research was indifferent. In addition, the local, immediate context alone proved sufficiently invigorating to drive the process. The study showed that responses, motivations, interpretations and implementation varied across the different academic disciplines and cultures, lending further support to previous research showing different disciplinary and contextualised understandings of internationalisation of the curriculum.

Establishing an institutional culture of curriculum design

The study also shows that engaging academics in discussions around internationalisation of the curriculum can serve to establish an institutional culture around curriculum work, making it less invisible and less solitary. Research participants were eager to share their pedagogical philosophies and approaches, were stimulated to reflect critically on their curricula and were willing to engage with the richness of curriculum work.

Realising that internationalisation of the curriculum is not a narrow concept, such as teaching in English or supporting student mobility needs, but rather an opportunity to challenge existing knowledge paradigms and push the boundaries of the curriculum served as a key point of engagement.

This supports the original intention behind internationalisation of the curriculum: it is not a practice helping academics align with educational trends, but one which positions them as key designers of knowledge, communication and research in the globalised context in which they now operate. Moreover, it stresses the fact that it is a process that can take place, in all its richness and depth, even in institutions with relatively low international profiles.

Internationalisation of the curriculum should not be viewed only as an effective response strategy or support apparatus for internationalisation in higher education.

Rather, it is a contemporary approach to curriculum design that takes into consideration the multiple complexities of different contexts and encourages academic teams to reflect critically on curriculum development in their authentic setting.

Institutions looking to educate graduates with a ‘global soul’ will be more successful if they embed internationalisation of the curriculum in their institutional culture as a professional learning opportunity for faculty, rather than a set of practices to abide by.

Amit Marantz Gal is a doctoral student at the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milano, Italy. She is an English language lecturer and head of academic internationalisation at Sapir College, Israel. E-mail:

In 2020, the Boston College Center for International Higher Education’s
International Higher Education (IHE) will mark its 100th issue, after 25 years of publication. IHE is committed to publishing independent analysis of higher education globally. Published in six languages (English, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese), it is one of the oldest publications on higher education worldwide.

This essay is one of four runners-up in IHE’s competition on “Unprecedented Challenges, Significant Possibilities, Key Challenges and Opportunities for International Higher Education in the Coming Decade and Beyond” leading up to its 100th issue. The winning essay is included in the special IHE issue in January 2020 and will be published subsequently in
University World News. It is written by Stephen Thompson, post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, United Kingdom, and is titled “Developing Disability-Inclusive Higher Education Systems – Unprecedented challenges, significant possibilities”.