A socially responsible model for internationalisation

A recent study by Elspeth Jones et al reminds us of the importance of connecting institutions’ service missions with their internationalisation agendas.

According to the researchers, “approaching internationalisation as a contribution to an institution’s social responsibility has the potential to strategically align multiple institutional agendas, increase opportunities and improve impact because it encourages thinking globally and locally about social and intercultural engagement”.

This is very apt for universities in Latin America, especially for Chile, as previous projects have had similar intentions.

The Universidad Construye País (UCP) project, carried out between 2001 and 2008, proposed to incorporate the values and principles of socially responsible institutions (SRI) into the core missions of 14 Chilean universities, namely research, teaching and learning and community engagement and their management. This project was inspired by the World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century, UNESCO, 1998.

The main values and principles defined for socially responsible institutions were organised along three levels:

• The personal level: dignity for the individual, liberty and equity.

• The social level: public good and social equity, sustainable development and environmental issues, sociability and solidarity for successful coexistence, acceptance and appreciation of diversity, civic responsibility, democracy and civic participation.

• And the institutional level: commitment to truth, excellence, interdependence and transdisciplinarity.

Furthermore, socially responsible institutions needed to respond to the requirements of the universities’ internal communities, their region and country as well as to the needs of the Latin American region and the world.

Hence, social responsibility as defined by UCP was constructed according to principles of internationalisation for local, national and international society, considering core aspects of global citizenship such as the levels defined above.

Consequently, internationalisation of higher education for society (IHES) reminds us of the basic principles on which Chilean institutions were once based and which have been forgotten mainly due to the commodification and commercialisation of higher education as well as internationalisation.

IHES and socially responsible values should provide the guidelines for Chile’s Regional Catholic Universities’ (RCUs) teaching and learning, research, external engagement and internationalisation agenda, particularly given that RCUs in Chile were founded to respond to local needs and to develop human capital that better serves society.

Therefore, IHES and social responsibility principles are fully aligned with their ethos and mission. Furthermore, the challenges of the 21st century and the aftermath of a worldwide pandemic mean societal matters are global and students need to graduate with international competencies.

Regional Catholic Universities in Chile

Most of the Regional Catholic Universities in Chile emerged as regional campuses of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile during the 1950s and became autonomous institutions during the 1990s while others were independent bodies from the start.

RCUs have a high percentage of underrepresented students who come from low-income families, are first-generation students or are from indigenous backgrounds. Their private character, despite their emphasis on social development, means RCUs are categorised as part of the country’s public (non-state) institutions.

RCUs differ from other universities in the country in their mission to serve and attend to their local community needs in order to reduce the gap between peripheral and central communities. This is reflected in their institutional development plans.

Furthermore, Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si reminds Catholic institutions of the importance of global citizenship, calling for actions such as protecting our common home (Earth) for future generations, embracing lifestyle changes and taking care of those who are poor and more vulnerable.

In the past years RCUs have risen to these global challenges, for instance, targeting academic research towards the most vulnerable communities, integrating Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into institutional research and academic agendas, providing external SDG-related courses, incorporating recycling practices into university campuses, implementing service-based learning practices with local community or incorporating sustainable development into their institutional strategic development plans.

These institutions’ local and internal contexts reinforce the need for them to get involved in the development of their local regions. Furthermore, they aim to address the development of global learning and global citizenship from an inclusive perspective to enhance academic activity focused on the co-creation of knowledge with local communities.

The internationalisation process of these institutions, therefore, has a different focus and basis to that of other institutions. Many universities have designed comprehensive internationalisation strategies which mainly understand the process of internationalisation as involving the signing of international agreements and the international mobility of students and academic staff.

Internationalisation responsibilities at such institutions mainly fall on the international offices, which are usually composed of a tiny group of administrative staff and – in some cases – an academic who is appointed director for a limited period.

The number of students who are mobile is very small and the number of academic staff involved is even smaller. The number of international collaboration agreements signed is high and specific to certain departments or activities and is not central to the university.

A more comprehensive model

Bearing all of this in mind, several initiatives have taken place in recent years to promote a more comprehensive internationalisation model in RCUs. Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción has increased its participation in international networking fairs through Learn in NAFSA and other Latin American missions.

This has enabled the university to increase its institutional mobility and national and international collaboration activities across research, teaching and outreach projects.

Furthermore, Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción has launched an institutional fund to promote academic internships, innovation activities and technology transfer missions.

Universidad Católica del Maule is also part of Learn Chile. Besides launching student mobility scholarships abroad, it also introduced international research internships for incoming undergraduate students last year and international research and collaboration programmes.

These have resulted in the implementation of the institutional structures necessary for faculties and research centres to carry out internationalisation activities. For instance, two centres with strong international collaboration are the Regional Oncology Centre and the Early Intervention Centre.

Universidad Católica de Temuco has worked on a systemic analysis of its internationalisation process to analyse it for any gaps and to set the framework for its internationalisation policies and goals.

This work has led it to apply for a ministry fund that has enabled it to hire experts in different internationalisation fields (IHES; internationalisation at home and comprehensive internationalisation).

Furthermore, it has led to the incorporation of internationalisation in the institution’s 2020-30 development plan as the main axis intersecting teaching and learning, research and institutional engagement.

Universidad Católica del Norte has also incorporated internationalisation into its strategic development plan for the institution’s research, teaching and learning, technology transfer, external engagement and management. It has developed several initiatives that position the institution as the main actor in research topics of local and national relevance.

This includes the Bioceanic Corridor, part of the Asunción Declaration 2015 signed between Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay, where Chile’s role will be to contribute a logistics platform for the international trade of goods and services by members of the corridor through its northern ports.

Within this framework, the Universidad Católica del Norte works with regional governments to develop the regional integration process through research projects and the creation of international networks with their Latin American counterparts that contribute to the Bioceanic Corridor.

A call to action

Undoubtedly, the IHES concept invites us to broaden our perspective on internationalisation. It does so with a strong emphasis on connecting institutions with their social environment and establishing collaborative relationships between institutions that allow them to contribute to their communities.

Considering the experience of the development of socially responsible institutions in Latin American institutions and, particularly in the case of Chile, where the Universidad Construye País project began in 2001 and has subsequently expanded, it would be much more fitting for both academic and student communities to refer to IHES as the internationalisation of SRI (SRIi).

It is clear that both SRIi and IHES have much in common. This includes joining global efforts for the benefit of their local communities as well as for their own institutional communities and contributing to the construction of better societies, locally, nationally and internationally.

Reimagining the Universidad Construye País project two decades later and adding IHES principles will make it much easier to approach internationalisation from a Latin American perspective and even reduce any conceptual gaps to establish collaborative relationships in the region.

Our common areas, based on the above, are an aspiration towards strengthening our ties with our international partners and intentionally co-creating academic and applied innovation initiatives that contribute to our national needs, and in turn, enhance our regional societies for the construction of a better world.

Paulina Latorre is subdirector of internationalisation at Universidad Católica de Temuco, Chile; Steve Baeza is director of institutional relations and links at Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción, Chile; Jorge Burgos is director general of international relations and links at Universidad Católica del Maule, Chile; and Karol Trautmann is director of international relations at Universidad Católica del Norte, Chile.