How to address unintended effects of internationalisation

Internationalisation of higher education practices should strive to follow a levelling-up agenda that avoids an erosion of cultural values, human capital flight, and inequities from hegemonic relationships, while supporting innovation, equitable collaborations, and decolonisation, argue independent scholars Shahrzad Kamyab and Rosalind Latiner Raby, a senior lecturer at the US-based California State University, Northridge.

Both are co-editors of the book, Unintended Consequences of Internationalization in Higher Education: Comparative international perspectives on the impacts of policy and practice, published on 8 February.

The book is based on an analysis of positive and negative unintended consequences in higher education internationalisation in 18 states and regions worldwide. These include Canada, Costa Rica, India, Iran, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong.

Opportunities to adapt

Kamyab and Latiner Raby told University World News that the unintended consequences of internationalisation can be positive, but this is “contingent on the ability to take into consideration opportunities for adaptation and innovation”.

“Policy-makers, researchers, leadership and practitioners need to realise how change can result from unintended actions,” they said.

For example, international student recruitment targeting students in the Global North by South Africa and Turkey unintentionally created hubs in those countries that attracted students from their own regions instead.

In Russia, intended institutional reforms to facilitate international student enrolment unintentionally drove innovations in student services. The latter was unexpectedly responsible for an increase in incoming student flows and the resulting profits gained from their admission.

In the case of Zimbabwe, one of the chapters argues that internationalisation in the Global South can “constitute a force countering neo-colonialism or post-colonialism even in very adverse socio-economic and political contexts and can have a number of positive unintended consequences” which include a move away from excessive subject-centeredness in programmes, a shift towards holistic continuous assessment, the promotion of online teaching and e-learning, and promoting “internationalisation at home.”

The opposite of intent

Discussing “negative unintended consequences”, which can lead to the “opposite of intent”, the book shows how, in pre-revolutionary Iran (pre-1979), massive student mobility helped to internationalise higher education institutions, but unintentionally led to brain drain.

In Tunisia, the intended adoption of European internationalisation practices was advocated by some as a tool to facilitate modernisation, but was unexpectedly rejected by others who fought to retain national and local identity.

“Policy-makers, researchers, leadership and practitioners should be aware of negative unintended consequences, not necessarily to avoid them, but more to turn them around to their benefit,” Kamyab and Latiner Raby indicated.

For example, encouraging faculty to engage in co-authorship with the intention of raising their academic status has the negative unintended consequence of forcing faculty to study issues not relevant to their country, they argued.

“The most harmful effect is to be oblivious to the possible negative effects that result from actions taken.

However, in some contexts, “a negative unintended consequence can lead to new opportunities that have positive implications,” they said.

“The most important lesson about unintended consequences of internationalisation is to not be oblivious to the opportunities presented by knowing that unintended consequences exist and thus, to plan accordingly,” Kamyab and Latiner Raby concluded.

For example, attempts to increase status, seen as positive, can embroil an institution in dependency relationships, seen as negative. Similarly, the adoption of English limits inbound students without English proficiency. This is seen as negative. However, attracting different inbound students with English skills that can raise institutional prestige is seen as positive.

A tool for assessment

According to the editors, the “Unintended Consequences of Internationalisation Framework” (the focus of the first chapter in the book) is a “structured tool that enables policy-makers, leadership, researchers and practitioners to assess the ways, positive, negative, or both, in which unintended consequences are embedded in internationalisation contexts.

“This is important because as change unfolds, it does not always follow anticipated or expected pathways.

“The best practice of higher education internationalisation is to understand that unintended consequences exist, both positive and negative, and are not terminal.

“Unintended consequences can lead to new changes, revised changes, and present opportunities for new strategic plans.”

For example, the realisation that internationalisation can unintentionally result in hegemonic relationships between the Global North and Global South can be turned around to positively focus on regional relationships, according to Kamyab and Latiner Raby.

Learning from mistakes

Professor Irina Maslo from the Faculty of Education, Psychology and Art at the University of Latvia, told University World News that unintended consequences in the internationalisation agenda arise as improvement opportunities. “We learn from mistakes,” said Maslo.

“The internationalisation agenda often misses the main components of the internationalisation framework,” said Maslo, who is the author of one of the book’s chapters entitled “Internationalisation of Higher Education at the University of Latvia”.

Maslo said: “In several countries, national policies ground centralised higher education internationalisation programme efforts in mobility, curricula, English as a lingua franca, and incoming visiting faculty, which are decided top-down by government laws and policies that often shorten the extent of internationalisation.

“The intended implications of the internationalisation strategy on practical outcomes are often not outlined. Their unintended consequences for institutional reputation, institutional structure, government, and learning and teaching environment haven't been re-thought,” Maslo said.

According to Maslo, learning from other institutions’ experiences of internationalisation and their eventual consequences is the simplest way to benefit from unintended consequences.

“The development of basic academic staff competence training programmes and training programmes aimed at the successful use of international networks should focus on the intended as well as unintended consequences … from dealing with ordinary staff activities to implementing the institutional internationalisation strategy,” Maslo said.

Equity, diversity and inclusion

Alejandra Barahona, executive director of LCI Education Study Abroad at Universidad VERITAS/LCI in Barcelona, told University World News that successful comprehensive internationalisation practices and policies are initiatives that “ensure equity, diversity, and inclusion at all levels of higher education institutions through curricula, staffing, and activities.

“Higher education institutions that don't balance their on-campus internationalisation with their mobility activities make unwise investments that will be unsustainable,” said Barahona, author of a chapter in the book on internationalisation of higher education in Costa Rica.

“Some of the unintended consequences that happen include cooperating with non-educational organisations that wish to establish their programme centres unregulated by the country's government, working solely as travel agent/logistics providers with an institution that does not value the local academic talent, and coordinating or facilitating ‘saviour’ volunteer work which creates false expectations and only brings financial gains but not long term impact or benefits to a community,” Barahona said.

Barahona said higher education institutions in developing countries “need to commit to deeper strategic-level internationalisation and ensure that partnerships are attuned to the ethos of our field.

“An institution should prioritise valuable alliances based on a deep respect for the host country's academic talent and curricular offerings.

“Although arranging service learning and community engagement activities is essential, institutions should ensure there are no negative impacts on the community and that all activities' benefits are more than just financial.”

Higher education internationalisation consultant Kyra Garson, who is also an intercultural coordinator at Thompson Rivers University in Canada, told University World News that while the diversity international students bring is valuable, an unintended consequence is that “there is less focus on internationalisation at home, or internationalisation of the curriculum, that would support all stakeholders in learning across differences.

“I believe as we work towards principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and as we practise meaningful decolonisation and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and their epistemologies and ontologies, we may find a way forward that re-centres reciprocal and relational approaches to internationalisation,” said Garson, who contributed a chapter to the book on the unintended consequences of relying on economic rationales in Canadian Internationaliation.