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International education framework for ethical practice proposed

A global academic leadership development specialist has set out a value-based practice framework for international educators across the globe, stating there is a need for a “reflective inquiry” into practices.

Wei Liu, who works at the University of Alberta International, said that more mindfulness is necessary to effectively execute international education roles. Photo: Pexels

International work should start to put international students’ learning experiences “at heart”

Wei Liu, who works at the University of Alberta International as the head of its Global Academic Leadership Development Program, said on release of the paper that more mindfulness is necessary to effectively execute international education roles.

“Like any profession, international educators need in-service professional development,” Liu told The PIE News.

“Like all practitioners, it is easy for us to get busy with the day to day work, with no time to think about the larger picture of our profession,” he continued.

In the framework, Liu suggests that international work should start to put international students’ learning experiences “at heart” instead of equating internationalisation with international recruitment. In such a competitive environment, host institutions in “Anglo countries” should make a serious effort to improve their education quality offerings, he contended.

“Most universities are talking about and implementing ‘internationalisation at home’, as an integral part of the internationalisation of higher education, for which the core value is centred around the intercultural competencies,” Cheryl Yu, director of international development at the UK’s University of the Creative Arts, who read the report after its release, told The PIE.

“Generally, most leaderships teams do intend to implement this, but don’t end up giving real priority to it,” Yu said.

Liu explains in the paper that the vocabulary most often heard in conjunction with international students is “acculturation, adjustment, adaptation and integration”. The most dominant paradigm guiding the work is ethnocentric, he continued, and students are viewed as in need of acculturation in a one-way path to the “elitist” host country’s language and culture.

He also referenced a paper by Philip Altbach, written in 2015, saying that the domination of English in international education simply creates “advantages for the countries that use English as the medium of instructions and research”.

“It is a difficult issue to tackle, but becoming aware of it is a necessary first step”

Following on from this, Liu claims that because students pay higher education fees for better quality education in the medium of a desirable language not available in their original country – English – this could be a “fair trade”. But the perpetuation of this ends up catering towards richer families in the developing world, thus reinforcing economic inequality.

“As we rake in the benefits of globalisation, we have to deal with the challenges it brings – a major one being unbalanced development, and unbalanced development challenges peace and stability of the world we live in.

“It is a difficult issue to tackle, but becoming aware of it is a necessary first step,” Liu explained.

The paper also latches onto a key idea that can often be forgotten in the sector: “The host countries’ gain is the sending countries’ loss”.

This could be perceived as especially true in countries that are opening up more available pathways to work rights, and subsequent citizenship – a current example includes the extension of Canada’s work permits for former international students, while in the UK, the graduate route gives favourable post-study work options, with similar offers in other countries.

The report also indicates that international education during the pandemic, where travel restrictions were put in place, demonstrates the dire possibility that the industry could contribute to global health challenges with the volume of international travel conducted. The politics influencing movement so much can adversely affect students’ decisions, and students themselves, it suggested.

“As the gap between the rich and poor widens, the anger of the poor is channelled toward new immigrants and the developing countries,” Liu wrote in the report.

The framework also focuses on the work educators must do to essentially understand what ethical challenges come with educating people from other countries.

“Educators are obligated to conduct critical reflections on the political, social and cultural context of their work in order to uncover the unequal power dynamics and work to transform them,” the paper said.

“When we expect academics to deliver the intercultural competencies in their curriculum and attitude, while they have never truly lived in another country it might be challenging, or simply end up with them talking on the surface,” Yu concurred.

“The framework does not aim to criticise the work of international educators – it only hopes to strengthen the professional identity as leaders”

She responded that academics don’t just need value-based practice assistance, but continuous academic support and development on cultural awareness of other values and cultures.

Liu made the point that using the framework for professional development should not take away, and instead “confirm the important and valuable work” done by international educators on a “daily basis for our international students”.

“The framework does not aim to criticise the work of international educators – it only hopes to strengthen the professional identity of international educators as leaders, thinkers and shapers of the future of this industry,” he added.

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