Let go of Western “superiority” for TNE success

Published 21/11/2023

The idea of “Western superiority” must be let go if international educators want to achieve a more equitable landscape for transnational education partnerships, leaders in the sector have urged.

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, told delegates at the Going Global 2023 conference in Edinburgh that there is a sort of self-superiority that has resulted from years of colonisation that can risk trickling down into TNE.

“With it comes everything else – the belief that there is one path to modernisation: the Western path. The belief that Western countries have nothing to learn from non-Western culture and education. The belief that Western universities are always wiser and their science is more creative.

“This, of course, is no basis for the global partnership, certainly going forward, in English-speaking nations and other Western countries,” Marginson said.

Olanike Adeyemo, deputy vice-chancellor of research, innovation and strategic partnerships and a professor of medicine and health at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, agreed that while the road will be difficult, it’s important to recognise that societies are at “different stages of development” in education.

“The global education system is evolving worldwide: there are different areas that will benefit most from internationalisation – so it is not to say one size fits all,” Amedeyo noted.

“Equitable internationalisation is achievable, but it cannot be global. Each model has to be context adapted to achieve equity.

“One of the things to think about to drive this equitable model… is awareness that internationalisation of higher education is no longer something that can be recognised as unidirectional. It has to be a partnership,” she reminded delegates.

It came on the day that British Council released its new TNE Strategy, with four key actions. Two those are contributing to better data and insight on UK TNE and creating an enabling environment for TNE in other countries and promote the quality of UK TNE internationally.

The other two actions it urges are influencing the removal of barriers to TNE and supporting new opportunities, and supporting TNE, to contribute to the transformation of local education systems and to the SDGs.

Maddalaine Ansell, British Council’s director of education, said that there was expectation that the Office for Students will be urging institutions to “take responsibility for the quality” of their TNE provisions.

“There is also a role to be played by regulators for the receiving country to be confident that their students and their people who are taking part in this education are getting what they want from it,” she noted.

Sir Steve Smith, the UK’s international education champion, said that organisations like British Council are “mission critical” to building equitable partnerships.

“[It is] building that trust, listening to the local perception as well the UK institution that wants to forge the relationship.

“In a way I do think we’re on the cusp of a change – I wonder what year it will be that TNE students outnumber international students in the UK. TNE’s time is now,” he told delegates.

Vice chancellor of the Malawi University of Science Technology, Mauakowa Malata, noted that finance plays an important role in TNE equity – and asked how such issues must be addressed.

“Those with resources have the power – so I want to know what the best practice is that we should be looking at, now?

“At the end of the day, real capacity building has not happened”

“For many years we’ve talked about partnerships… but at the end of the day, real capacity building has not happened,” Malata claimed.

Adeyemo argued that looking at TNE of just bringing a curriculum to a certain country and then adopting it for yourself is part of a larger, historical way of looking at internationalisation.

“Internationalisation, I think, is for each country, each institution to determine when they think they have enough,” she added.

In terms of partnerships, Adeyemo noted that it’s about looking for people that will help show off your weaknesses and help improve them.

Pushing back against Marginson’s remarks regarding Western superiority, Tom Bewick, the CEO at Ecctis, argued that the West is not “always oppressive” – that such “woke ideology” can be dangerous – and balance should be sought.

“The West itself isn’t the problem; the problem is what the West did and then persuaded itself that it should be doing. I don’t think we can defend that one iota – I don’t buy the argument that the colonised countries are ultimately better off and so on,” Marginson said in response.

Looking to TNE partnerships and internationalisation, that Western mindset and model of development – which has been at play for so many years – is the issue.

“It is the West that’s, I suppose, driven this worldwide model of development. We have to address it,” he added.

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