Monday, March 18, 2013

Beyond Global Competence: The Transformative Goals of International Education

I recently wrote a blog post for the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE). As you know, international education is a key strategic theme here at Douglas. CBIE has 150 member institutions across Canada, including Douglas, covering the education spectrum from K to 12 through to post-graduate.

Originally published on the CBIE blog March 14, 2013

International education at Canadian colleges and universities is gaining prominence. This prominence follows on what can be seen as a growing trend worldwide to develop global citizenship skills in our students. However, this altruistic value is not always – and is perhaps even seldom – the dominant driving force behind international education, and there is some distance to go for many, but by no means all, post‐secondary institutions in achieving this goal in a meaningful way.

At a macro level, public policy and post-secondary institutions often address the “how” and “what” of international education and we frequently focus our discussions on recruitment, exchanges, and other such matters. With less frequency do we seriously address the question of why we should engage in international education. We need to do exactly that because, if our motivations are not crystal clear, the focus on the how and what are likely to lead us adrift. Indeed, if the why is to achieve global citizenship, then public policy and institutional frameworks need to be seriously examined for their potential to achieve that goal.

For some institutions and from the perspective of public policy, a top driver for growth in international education is economic. International education is seen in terms of net revenues and categorized as an export industry. Taken in isolation, this perspective commodifies international education and risks undermining the credibility of the endeavour itself. This commodification further risks both domestic backlash and a potential colonialist critique – both of which are obviously antithetical to the goal of global citizenship.

The more altruistic view of international education as creating some of the necessary conditions for global citizenship begs the question of what those conditions are and what is meant by global citizenship anyway. Further, even if the term is (however vaguely) understood, the public policy frameworks as well as the institutional means to achieve the goal of creating global citizens are considerably less so.

One approach, and the approach used by Douglas College, is to envision international education in three categories or phases. Briefly, these are the recruitment of inbound students, a focus on outbound opportunities and, thirdly, the full integration and participation of international dimensions across the institution. This third integrative phase of international education offers transformative potential not only for the institution but can be seen, in fact, as contributing toward the goal of global citizenship. The latter phase goes beyond mere global competence, that is beyond the skills to cope, cooperate and compete in an internationalized environment, but to inspire a deep appreciation for and acknowledgement of alternative perspectives, cultures and ways of knowing.

Institutions truly dedicated to developing global citizenship need to take time to define it and then cultivate an approach that builds it, step by step, rather than assuming it will happen because they are facilitating mobility, attracting students from abroad, and engaging in multiple international activities.

- Scott

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