Internationalising the Curriculum: From Policy to Practice

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Extract from:

Education in a Changing Environment 17th-18th September 2003

Conference Proceedings

Internationalising the Curriculum: From Policy to Practice

Viv Caruana,

Jane Hanstock,

The focus of this paper is ‘concretizing internationalisation’. A brief discussion of the role of government policy in UK Higher Education institutions’ (HEIs) understanding of the concept is followed by consideration of possible approaches to internationalisation within the context of the University of Salford’s international mission. A key question is what does internationalisation mean for curriculum design and teaching practice? Is internationalisation achieved by adaptation of course content to reflect a global perspective of our disciplines or does it imply the radical re-design of units in terms of content, teaching strategies, resources etc. to make them more inclusive and international? (Martin, 2002). It is argued that a ‘graduate attributes’ or ‘competency’ approach, focused on the skills and knowledge which students should acquire from their learning may complement the University of Salford’s mission in terms of employability. However, a more holistic approach is required to ‘enrich the wider student experience by integrating the knowledge and experience of our international students’ (The Strategic Framework, 2003-2004, University of Salford).

Internationalisation: the Policy Perspective

The literature on Higher Education (HE) policy in the UK bears little or no reference to internationalisation as an area of government policy making. This, despite the fact that at present UK HEIs play host to approximately 240,000 international students, a figure which on the basis of worldwide research conducted for IDP Education Australia, is anticipated to more than double by 2010, assuming that UK market share remains constant. (THES, 25 July, 2003) If internationalisation is only a minor consideration in government HE policy despite such trends and the prospect of a significant shift in the balance of the student population, what should we conclude from this? Internationalisation as a concept remains marginal and insignificant even in the light of such changes in the student population or is it so new as to constitute as yet, unexplored terrain?
Evidence suggests that the roots of the concept lie in the original definition of a University as a body of scholars, coming together from across national boundaries to share and exchange knowledge. Indeed, measures of excellence, particularly in research, continue to draw upon the underlying assumption of this commonwealth of knowledge (HEFCE, 1999). Whilst the literature on HE policy making neglects internationalisation per se, if one accepts the narrowing down of the concept to that of academic mobility and co-operation, then an extensive and very specific bibliography emerges (van der Wende, 1997). Developments in ICT have played a part in facilitating multicultural exposure and exchange and at the supranational level of policy making the development process has been fuelled by initiatives such as the Sorbonne Accord succeeded by the Bologna process and more recently, the Berlin Accord. Seemingly internationalisation within the context of pedagogy is neither marginal nor recent, but is dealt with in a different way from mainstream HE policy making.
David Elliott of the British Council argues UK policy emphasises HE as a tradeable activity generating foreign currency rather than addressing genuine educational needs and aspirations which in turn, focuses attention on firstly, the recruitment of international students and secondly, e-University initiatives. Elliott discerns a reluctance to use the rhetoric of internationalisation employed in other countries which may stem from a genuinely lesser need for explicit policy when de facto, UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) pursue international agendas by virtue of their autonomy, and their academic and financial imperatives. Nonetheless, in exercising that autonomy and weighing imperatives UK HEIs need a clear vision of why and how they intend to fulfil their international missions. In the absence of any meaningful educational rationale there is the danger that its commercial counterpart will dictate an internationalisation agenda driven overwhelmingly by a process of aggressive competition for overseas fee-paying students with little recourse to the means by which new and different attitudes and expectations are to be accommodated within existing traditional pedagogic models. (Elliott, 1997).
The University of Salford (UoS) currently attracts about 2,000 international students to its campus in Greater Manchester, a figure equating with some 50 or so, other UK HEIs and representing approximately 10% of the UoS student population (International Office, University of Salford; THES 25 July, 2003). Its policy in respect of internationalisation is stated unequivocally in the Strategic Framework 2003-2004. The University sees its mission in terms of preparing students for careers that will be in the global economy, whilst at the same time enriching the wider student experience by integrating the knowledge and experience of its international students. This paper seeks to explore the mechanisms by which this mission may be achieved, that is, how internationalisation as defined in this way, may be embedded into the University’s curricula.

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