15 Aug 2018

Where global responsibility meets internationalisation



Where do calls for global responsibility and the practice of international higher education meet? In conversation and in literature, buzz-phrases such as ‘responsible internationalisation’ and ‘ethical internationalisation’ exist, but how do these words translate into globally responsible practice? This blog explores where global responsibility and higher education internationalisation intersect and how practitioners can infuse an ethical framework into their international engagement efforts.

Global responsibility at the heart of international higher education

Through ‘mainstreaming internationalisation’ and ‘comprehensive internationalisation’ efforts, international engagement has become more integrated into the core aspects of higher education (teaching, research and service). At the same time, a global focus on sustainable development goals (SDGs) reflects growing concern for inequality, social justice issues, global challenges and sustainability practices.

Higher education institutions can play a leading (and transformational) role in global responsibility, as there are many opportunities for universities to engage internationally with partners and students, as well as to seek solutions to global challenges via research. Global responsibility can guide international engagement practices. To do so, institutions must adopt an ethical framework to guide action, articulate global responsibility in strategy documents and implement practices that transform our role and impact in the world.

Ethical internationalisation

When we commit to integrating globally responsible practices into our international efforts, it’s important to consider an ethical framework. An international project team at the University of Oulu, Finland, in partnership with 20 universities in nine countries, explored ‘ethical internationalisation’ by examining global ethical issues arising from higher education internationalisation processes.

In doing so, they developed a working definition of ‘ethical internationalisation’ that institutions can use to guide their efforts:

  1. Intelligibility: making inequities and inequalities visible and articulating some of the taken-for-granted assumptions and paradoxes at their core;
  2. Dissent: engaging in the complex tasks of resisting rules, principles and precepts that reassert inequities, while acknowledging our complicit participation in these same structures;
  3. Solidarity: coming together across and with difference.

Articulating global responsibility in strategy

Words hold power and meaning. Articulating global responsibility in strategy documents is important to guide action.

For example, “driving responsible European international higher education” is the main tagline in the EAIE Strategy 2016-2020. More specifically, it states, “We cooperate with all individuals and organisations in Europe and beyond who share our view of international higher education as equitable, ethical, socially responsible, accessible and accountable.”

Simply using the language ‘global responsibility’ in strategy documents is a start, but explaining what it means gives deeper meaning and direction during the implementation phase.

Global responsibility in practice

When it comes to global responsibility in action, it goes beyond development projects with Global South partners.

Markus Laitinen, President of the EAIE, suggests, “For universities, ‘responsible internationalisation’ could refer to fair treatment of international students, not engaging with dubious admissions practices, maintaining diversity in classrooms, offering needs-based scholarships and many other things.” Several best practices in the field that specifically use SDGs as a focal point have been The Sustainable Development Goals: universities taking action.

Here are a few more ways we can infuse global responsibility into international practices:

• Internationalisation at home practices: teaching students to critically identify and address global inequalities (one good example is through curriculum for global responsibility education)

• Quality assurance: including ‘global responsibility’ as a quality assurance indicator

• Code(s) of ethics: designing codes that guide practice on educational services across borders such as export education, transnational education, and education agents

• National codes for international students: to safeguard international student interests and rights, several countries have created national codes, such as the Netherlands and Denmark

• Research: publishing research in open access books and journals

• Research and MOUs: co-creation of international research through reciprocal agreements and values

There is a natural connection between global responsibility and international engagement, yet it takes commitment and intentionality in both language and action. We all must ensure that international engagement does not become purely economic and neoliberal, but rather that practices are envisioned and implemented in a globally responsible manner.