Internationalisation at home: a sustainable alternative

Internationalisation at home: a sustainable alternative

The results of the Erasmus Impact Study gave internationalisation of higher education enthusiasts a powerful tool in the battle for more attention for internationalisation in the curricula of their home institutions. The message from Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth is clear: by studying or training abroad, students increase their job prospects. They are half as likely to face long term unemployment. Five years after graduation, the chances that they’ll be unemployed are almost 25% less than that of an average student. But what if mobility isn’t an option?

Although the Erasmus+ programme proved its importance in boosting students’ employability, the reality is that non-mobile students still represent a majority of the students of many institutions of higher education in and outside Europe today. Considering this, the concept of internationalisation at home (IaH) seems to be a good alternative for students who will not get a chance to take part in mobility activities during their studies. The last EAIE conference in Liverpool, with its wide range of workshops and sessions around this topic, made clear that the importance of IaH is growing.

Global citizenship

 For institutions like the University of Applied Sciences in Leiden, the Netherlands, which has the ambition to stimulate internationalisation, but limited financial and human resources to develop its own English speaking programmes to attract international mobility partners, IaH is an interesting option to consider and develop. At our University, we believe that internationalisation, diversity, sustainability, and global citizenship form a set of key tools that can help our students to cope with the challenges of increasing globalisation. A project realised by our Communication department offers a good example of integrating internationalisation at home in the curriculum.

In the last period of their second year, the assignment for our students is to set up a real-life communications consulting firm and work on a project commissioned by a real client. With a deliberate intention to internationalise this project, we searched for potential partners (clients) who would either have an international background or do business across the border. Two non-profit organisations – Omalief, from Leiden, and The Polish School in The Hague – were selected and kindly accepted our invitation to take part in the first pilot of our project.

The pilot cases

Omalief is a local initiative of a Turkish-Muslim community in Leiden that felt a need to do something meaningful for the Dutch society in which they live. The foundation focuses on the isolation of the elderly in their own neighbourhoods and towns. Omalief encourages young Turkish volunteers to adopt a Dutch oma (grandma) or opa (grandpa) and visit them on a regular basis at the homes for the elderly where they reside. By bringing the two cultures closer together and stimulating conversation, respect and understanding grow and prejudice decreases. During the 10 weeks of the project, our students became acquainted with the activities of the foundation, their mission, goals, and motivations. The result was impressive: a completely renewed website, a new Facebook page, a digital platform to assist internal communication within the foundation to optimise their way of working and, last but not least, new friendships.

The experience at the The Polish School in The Hague foundation was equally positive. Established by Polish parents living and working in the Netherlands who found it important that their children learn about their own cultural roots, the foundation is fully dependent on donations. The new trilingual website, logo, and promotional film realised for the school by our students were seen as an unexpected and, at the same time, highly appreciated gift. An optimised communication strategy was developed by our students with the intention of building brand awareness for the school, attracting more sponsors, and hopefully, at the end of the day, also attracting the attention of parents.

New focus

By stimulating students to interact with people from other cultural backgrounds and understand their deeper motivations, we challenged students to think beyond the borders of their own cultures and to reflect upon stereotypes. Our students were clearly proud of what they had achieved during this project and the cultural awareness they gained. This type of internationalisation activity can also be an interesting, cost-effective alternative to a full English-speaking programme required for mainstream mobility activities. The financial resources put into a project like this are limited – a factor that remains crucial to our university and makes internationalisation at home the focus of our internationalisation strategy.

Anna is Lecturer of Marketing and Communications and Coordinator of Internationalisation at the Department of Communication of the University of Applied Sciences in Leiden, the Netherlands.