Stakeholders call for shift in intled ethics

Published 17/04/2023

An ethical shift in international higher education is the “only option”, stakeholders have said, branding the current approach as unsustainable and worsening inequality worldwide.

Wei Liu, program administrator of the Global Academic Leadership Development program at University of Alberta International, made the comments in a recent article in The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs.

“International higher education in major Western countries has been pursued both as an export industry to obtain economic profit and as an immigrant recruitment platform to obtain top talents.

“This is a highly unsustainable approach to international higher education, as it serves to worsen inequality worldwide,” wrote Liu.

Instead, Liu said the sector should focus on “developing global citizenship and global leadership among all students”, so that higher education institutions can “better contribute to the solution of common challenges we face today“.

Liu highlights the pandemic gave many institutions a chance to work “reorient their future”, but since then focus has reverted back to filling enrolment gaps.

Professor Philip Altbach and Hans de Wit, Emeritus professor and distinguished fellow, both at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education recently wrote about some of the consequences of higher education operating as an industry.

“[University leaders] have not learned about the risk of over-dependence on international fees for institutional budgets that was made clearer by the pandemic.

“They appear not to be concerned about geopolitical tensions, climate change or challenging economic, demographic and educational contexts in sending regions,” the article read.

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, shares concerns on the current model of fee-based international education, and described its ethical foundation as “threadbare”.

“As I see it, the English-speaking countries are maintaining a colonial relationship with the emerging countries through higher education,” Marginson told The PIE.

“By presenting their higher education as necessary and superior, they maintain the old cultural pattern of colonial domination, while transferring revenues from the middle class in the emerging countries, to provider higher education institutions in the wealthy world.

“If we in the ‘education export’ countries were sincerely committed to lifting up education across the world, we would help to build capacity in the emerging countries themselves,” Marginson added.

Although Liu appreciates lack of government funding as one reason institutions focus on revenue from recruitment, he said that “balance needs to be pursued between economic gain and social responsibility”.

“Balance needs to be pursued between economic gain and social responsibility”

Liu gave multiple recommendations, including calling upon faculty members to internationalise their institution’s curriculum.

Whilst the concept of internationalisation of the curriculum has been around for some time, it is a slowly re-emerging trend in major study destinations including the UK and US.

He also recommended institutions “recognise diverse epistemological perspectives; raise students’ awareness of global problems; strengthen their intercultural competences; and push them to become responsible and active global citizens and leaders”.

Jenna Mittelmeier, senior lecturer in international education, University of Manchester, agrees that many universities in the Global North, particularly in Anglophone contexts, focus internationalisation activities on those that bring direct economic gain to institutions, such as international student recruitment or international research collaborations.

“This approach tends to favour the increased presence of intercultural diversity and difference in university practices without reflecting on the processes of just and ethical interactions,” said Mittelmeier.

She told The PIE that the majority of UK universities do not have in-depth institutional-wide strategies for internationalising pedagogy and curricula.

“My feeling is that internationalisation tends to be thought of as an additive approach, whereby universities add on readings from other countries or course units with a ‘global’ focus.

“However, research consistently shows us that this additive approach does not develop transformative learning experiences and, at times, can even exacerbate existing biases or stereotypes that students bring with them to university.

“For internationalisation to be truly transformative and develop the types of graduate outputs that universities expect, programs would need to develop more purposeful approaches which fully embed internationalisation throughout the curricula, pedagogies, and intended learning outcomes,” said Mittelmeier.

In a LinkedIn post, Ruth Arnold, executive director of external affairs at Study Group, highlighted that one way to contribute to solutions of global common challenges is to “involve international students and alumni themselves in developing international education”.

She also highlighted the importance of respectful collaboration between institutions around shared educational aims, movement between countries, ensuring skills and research meet the needs of home communities and employment, and fostering relationships on campus.

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