Naming internationalisation “will not revive it”

Is internationalisation in need of revival?

Hans de Wit, who is a professor of internationalisation of higher education, has published a really interesting piece on University World News on why “naming internationalisation will not revive it”.

A recent phenomenon in the debate on the future of the internationalisation of higher education is the inclination to put new broad-based labels on it: mainstreaming, comprehensive, holistic, integrated and deep internationalisation are some of the ones we see used in recent writings and presentations.

The most common current label appears to be ‘comprehensive internationalisation’, thanks mainly to the paper with that title which past president of the Association of International Educators (NAFSA), John Hudzik, wrote this year with the subtitle ‘From concept to action’.

I saw Hudzik speak on comprehensive internationalisation at the 2011 Going Global conference earlier in 2011 and found his arguments reasonably convincing. I also wrote a piece for Times Higher Education on internationalisation and the University of Nottingham experience which set out some of the ways in which the rhetoric can be turned into reality (without using any new terminology). De Wit continues:

In Europe the term ‘mainstream(ing) internationalisation’ is becoming more common, although this is perceived less as a concept than ‘comprehensive internationalisation’. It is used to describe a process emphasising the need to position internationalisation within the core of higher education instead of keeping it as a marginal issue.

Why do we see this emergence of new labels? What do they mean and how are they used? And will they advance the debate on the future of internationalisation started by Uwe Brandenburg and me in our recent International Higher Education essay with the provocative title “The End of Internationalisation”?

These questions occurred to me after chairing a debate on “What do we mean by ‘deep internationalisation’?” at the Australia International Education Conference in Adelaide on 13 October 2011.

There are lots of terms for what we mean by internationalisation when executed at an institutional level for strategic rather than opportunistic reasons. And Professor de Wit’s reflections on the various meanings of these terms are worth considering further. He continues, setting “deep” against “comprehensive” internationalisation:

Even after the session I was not clear what our Australian colleagues meant by the term ‘deep internationalisation’ and it also seemed to me that they themselves were not very clear or convinced about it. From what I can ascertain, ‘deep’ internationalisation seems to lie somewhere between ‘comprehensive’ and ‘mainstream’.

It is a bit clearer what John Hudzik means by ‘comprehensive internationalisation’. His definition – although I read it more as a statement and action plan – reads as follows: “A commitment through action, to infuse international and comparative perspectives throughout the teaching, research and service mission of higher education”. He continues, adding values, ethos and internal and external stakeholders.

It’s an interesting article and I think de Wit is right to be suspicious of those who seek to apply labels to justify or perhaps overstate their international activities. Giving a name to a set of institutional operations or aspirations doesn’t necessarily make them more substantial or meaningful.

But what all of these names do seem to have in common is a seriousness of purpose and intent – they do represent an attempt to render internationalisation as a coherent and intelligent approach to higher education in the global era. So, whilst they may have many flaws and in some cases serve to overstate the reality of institutional operations, there is merit in seeking to describe and rationalise these activities. So, I think we are far from “the end of internationalisation.”

1 thought on “Naming internationalisation “will not revive it”

  1. Pingback: Naming internationalisation “will not revive it” « Registrarism « Blog

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