Posted on 3 May 2022 at 12:27 by Vicky Lewis
Whenever you do a piece of research, it always sparks new avenues to pursue or ideas that need to be investigated.
Some of the conversations I had when interviewing sector stakeholders for my Global Strategies Report last year set me thinking about the intersection between HE internationalisation and decolonisation.
My initial – perhaps naïve – assumption was that they are underpinned by similar values and aspirations: inclusivity, the broadening of perspectives and the challenging of assumptions. However, I soon realised that, when it comes to internationalisation, in the UK at least, there are other, more commercial dynamics at play which can perpetuate colonial models and undermine efforts to decolonise.
I found this blog (entitled: Internationalisation and Decolonisation: Can two work together unless they agree) by Dr Davies Banda from the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education and Sport particularly helpful, as it shows how internal governance structures and relationships can be used to try to align these two agendas.
It explores learning and teaching, curricula and Internationalisation at Home, concluding that ‘our actions going forward will demand authentic processes to help us overcome superficial discussions of decolonisation beyond mere insertions of Global South items within reading lists’.
I started to consider the various activity strands that comprise international engagement at most UK universities. Beyond curricula and Internationalisation at Home, there is a strong focus on research and partnerships and on the recruitment of international students.
How can engagement in these areas – and in the broader development of international strategy and the delivery of international operations – be tackled in such a way that decolonisation is supported rather than undermined?
My early musings on this are captured in this blog, entitled What would a decolonial approach to internationalisation look like?, written for Halpin in March 2022.
It touches on the need for more equitable research funding allocations, new forms of sustainable international partnership and diversification of the student body not only in terms of nationality but also by social and economic background.
It also highlights the importance of inviting challenge, when developing and implementing international strategy, from staff, students and other stakeholders with non-Western backgrounds and frames of reference. And it notes the opportunities that exist to rethink international operations by moving away from reliance on the carbon-intensive and often colonialist model of flying UK-based staff around the world.
Following on from conversations on this topic, I was delighted to collaborate with two experts in the field, Dr Omolabake Fakunle and Dr Chisomo Kalinga, both academics at University of Edinburgh, on a piece which was recently published in International Higher Education and University World News. For our title we posed the rhetorical question: Internationalisation and decolonisation: Are we there yet?.
The article builds on arguments made by Hans de Wit and Elspeth Jones that Western countries are missing opportunities to move away from the ‘Westernised, largely Anglo-Saxon, and predominantly English-speaking paradigm’. We seek to problematise the current world order and, taking the UK as a case study, propose that ‘there is little evidence that the university internationalisation agenda is explicitly invested in decolonisation’.
We suggest that – as well as embracing the international classroom and reconceptualising research collaboration – there is a need to reframe strategies, drawing on the voices of hitherto marginalised stakeholders, and to support these strategies with tangible policy changes.
We conclude that ‘the current main manifestation of internationalisation as affording intercultural connections offers a potential way to re-envision internationalisation’. If this re-envisioning is followed through with aligned policies and actions, it can act as a starting point for the process of dismantling the legacy of coloniality.
I feel that I am at the beginning of an interesting journey here: one with a steep learning curve as I have to unlearn all sorts of assumptions before I can make progress. However, the conversations I have had with others are already stimulating deeper thinking about (and questioning of) some of the international engagement models we use within the UK higher education context, which I hope is a step in the right direction.