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Internationalisation at home: when study abroad isn’t an option

The international education sector is one that focuses on internationalisation – lives it, and breathes it.

The term internationalisation of the curriculum was coined by Betty Leask. Photo: Pexels

Globally it has surged in popularity as another internationalisation tool

International student recruitment, for many, is the main driver. Stakeholders want students to be able to travel abroad and take in other cultures, get a worldly education and become global citizens.

And yet, those who are not able to travel abroad for their studies still should have access to international opportunities.

Where does that leave those unable to study abroad? Instead of internationalisation through travel, providers can internationalise through examining course curriculums and campuses.

The term internationalisation of the curriculum, coined by Betty Leask, is defined as “incorporating international, and/or global dimensions into content of the curriculum as well as learning outcomes, assessment tasks, teaching methods and support services”.

Put together, this is quite the lofty task. Many elements go into it, but according to Anthony Manning, dean for global and lifelong learning at the University of Kent, it is worth working towards.

“My mission in internationalisation of the curriculum is about working with colleagues across different disciplines, with tools that are easily accessible to help people incrementally develop,” he notes.

“Of course, the impact of this kind of learning is likely to be different to the kind of transformative and immersive learning brought about by disorienting trigger experiences from entering or living in an unfamiliar culture.

“However, not everyone has access to those kinds of profound experiences, so as international educators we have a duty to help people to gain access to international perspectives and cultures in a range of inclusive and accessible ways,” he explains.

While it is more of a nascent concept in the UK, globally it has surged in popularity as another internationalisation tool. Shazim Husayn, who heads up the Global Galway project at the University of Galway, has seen this development through years of recruitment experience.

“After Covid, people work in different places, do different things – and to be able to connect with a curriculum that identifies different ways to say, calculate something in a different country or different methods of a framework geographically is really important.

“I think there’s more institutions in different parts of the world using it also as a tool of decolonising the curriculum, as well as internationalising the curriculum,” he says.

While going down different avenues in their methodology, decolonisation and internationalisation of the curriculum are not that different from each other. One South African paper examining the subject described it like this: “decolonisation aims to transform the university curriculum to redress injustices and inequalities done to the colonised.

“Whereas internationalisation aims to transform and promote peaceful global relations through cross-cultural engagements.”

As such, both endeavour to foster an equality.

As Husayn points out, countries across the world may end up taking different approaches. Culture is different everywhere, and so then is their method of globalisation, coming from a different state of affairs.

Some US universities are coming in hot with ideas. Michigan, for example, has begun offering options from embedding international elements in their course content to even short international trips.

The American Council for Education has begun to offer a course in internationalisation of the curriculum for institutions. Some, however, look at a more practical approach, and often draw on existing expertise, as internationalisation at home is yet to have its own arsenal in terms of budget and staff.

Stephanie Tignor heads up Virginia Commonwealth University’s education abroad department – and events in the last few years have shown the need to work together with other departments in her university’s sphere to help internationalise both the curriculum, and recognise issues within it.

“We’ve discovered that there’s a lot of overlap between what our office does and what our Office of Multicultural Student Affairs does. We can achieve more with students engaging in an office like that and also with the opportunities that we offer in the global learning space,” Tignor tells The PIE.

Tignor cites the university’s undergraduate degree “major maps”, which endeavour to ensure every student that goes through the college gains a certain level of cultural agility – leading to a group of more global citizens. In addition, its cultural conversations initiative has also gained popularity in recent years, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

The internationalisation “at home”, as Manning calls it, happens through other actions like this at VCU, through incremental extra and co-curricular activities – in a way that involves both domestic and international students in a more integrated fashion.

Manning’s own assessment of internationalisation of the curriculum concurs with the fact that each institution has to start somewhere.

“It’s likely that developing intercultural awareness through IaH will require a more sustained approach over time through a varied range of classroom activities and campus events.

“Of course, the impact of this kind of learning is likely to be different to the kind of transformative and immersive learning brought about by disorienting trigger experiences from entering or living in an unfamiliar culture. However, not everyone has access to that,” he relents.

Manning still advocates that despite study abroad generally being the best way to develop global citizens, this is a step that is worth taking, both in terms of investment of money and time.

Kent’s own work on the idea has been designed around “embedding internationalisation in the formal, informal and hidden curriculum” from the start, by incorporating into module specification – as well as campus initiatives, like awards, “hangouts” and leadership development programs.

However, Manning stresses that budget is still something that would be useful to help this branch of internationalisation advance. But as metrics on measuring its utility aren’t as tangible as international student numbers of study abroad program success, it becomes an uphill battle. 

“It’s really important for us to continue to find ways to raise the profile of internationalisation of the curriculum and internationalisation at home across the sector, in terms of their valuable contributions in addition to and beyond international mobility,” he insists.

“Yet, unfortunately the institutional prioritisation of these important aspects of internationalised experience without travel is not yet uniform or optimal.”

For now, he suggests collaboration between colleagues, much like VCU’s efforts, and sharing existing good practice.

“It’s a good idea to begin by drawing inspiration from the work of others for transfer or reinterpretation in local development projects.

“It’s definitely worthwhile because these means of embedding international diversity in the curriculum are more widely accessible and achievable for so many people.”

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