The “4 Is” for internationalisation of education

The “4 Is” for internationalisation of education

– Dr Ian H Rowlands is a professor at the University of Waterloo and affiliated with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU)

Recent events have confirmed that internationalisation of learning and teaching in education within universities is now as important as it ever has been – if not even more so.

Paradoxically, however, restrictions on international travel mean that one of the key traditional ways of advancing internationalisation in higher education – namely, student mobility – is not available.

For the short-term at least, other means of infusing critical international and intercultural dimensions into learning and teaching have to be used.

Fortunately, there is a rich inventory of experience and insights upon which to draw.

The 4 Is that can help internationalisation of education

The theory and practice of internationalisation at home, of collaborative online international learning, and of global citizenship education are but three examples.

Complementing this, let me offer four suggestions to those who are internationalising their learning and teaching activities going forward.

  1. Be intentional. Inertia can be a powerful force in universities. With their bureaucracies, hierarchies, and traditions, institutions of higher education often end up reproducing themselves, even if unintentionally. The pandemic, however, presents a window of opportunity to reflect, to reimagine, and to rebuild purposively. Focus explicitly on your students, and keep front of mind the reason why you are internationalizing your learning and teaching – namely, to develop engaged and globally-minded citizens.
  • Be inclusive. All voices must be heard. Indeed, recent world events have illuminated the importance of inclusion, with these same events having potentially-transformative consequences. That momentum – plus the fact that internationalisation naturally serves as a meeting point for multiple cultures – means that the time is ripe to welcome a range of conceptual perspectives and empirical experiences into the curriculum.  
  • Be integrative. Different parts of the university community – both home and abroad – can combine their respective interests in internationalisation to make wholes greater than the sum of the parts. Instructors from different faculties can co-host a class to explore cross-disciplinary reflections on internationalisation. International postgraduate students can bring new perspectives to undergraduate laboratories. And alumni based overseas can appear virtually in lecture halls to offer real-time intercultural perspectives.
  • Be imaginative. With respect to internationalisation in universities, we are all needing to rethink the ‘how?’, and the ‘what?’.  Unleash your mind. Draw inspiration from others: other sectors, other institutions, other people. Be empathetic, and put yourself in your students’ shoes as you devise creative ways to experience ‘the international’ and ‘the intercultural’ without physical mobility.

You are not alone in these efforts. In addition to the experience and insights of others on campus, your university’s international partners – present and potential – also have much to offer those who are internationalising their learning and teaching activities.

After all, in many cases, they are undertaking the very same rebuild. Their alumni in your city can enrich your classes; your business partners in their community can advise their students; and so on.

Partnerships – both on campus and beyond – will continue to be critical to the success of internationalisation.

Student mobility – the physical movement of individuals from one country to another – will eventually return. But when it does, it will not only be in modified form, but it will also be only part of a broader portfolio of activities for internationalising learning and teaching.

By working today on the non-mobility parts, we are all building a future for international education that is more meaningful and more sustainable.

Pic: Porapak Apichodilok

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