Cos­mopoli­tan qualms

Do stu­dents ap­prove of in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion?

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Nu­mer­ous stud­ies have shown the benefits for West­ern uni­ver­si­ties of re­cruit­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, find­ing that a di­verse stu­dent body ex­poses stu­dents to dif­fer­ent cul­tures and ideas, helps them de­velop glob­ally rel­e­vant skills and en­riches class­room dis­cus­sions.

But re­cent data sug­gest that do­mes­tic stu­dents of­ten fail to per­ceive th­ese benefits, and that, in some cases, they are de­cid­edly luke­warm about learn­ing along­side for­eign­ers.

One sur­vey of more than 12,000 UK un­der­grad­u­ates found that, while a ma­jor­ity felt that study­ing along­side in­ter­na­tional stu­dents gave them a “bet­ter world­view”, nearly a quar­ter (24 per cent) be­lieved that over­seas stu­dents “re­quire more at­ten­tion from the lec­turer”.

Mean­while, more than a fifth (22 per cent) said that in­ter­na­tional stu­dents “slow down the class” and 16 per cent said that their pres­ence means that “aca­demic dis­cus­sions are of a lower qual­ity”, ac­cord­ing to the 2018 Stu­dent Aca­demic Ex­pe­ri­ence Sur­vey, con­ducted by the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute and Ad­vance HE.

This is not the first ev­i­dence that raises un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the role of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in the class­room. An Aus­tralian study from 2012 found that adding in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to a tu­to­rial – or do­mes­tic stu­dents from non-English-speak­ing back­grounds – “leads to a re­duc­tion in most stu­dents’ marks”. “The ef­fect is strong­est as felt by stu­dents from English-speak­ing back­grounds,” ac­cord­ing to the pa­per, pub­lished in the Eco­nomics of Ed­u­ca­tion Re­view.

How, then, can the benefits of hav­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in the class­room be max­imised?

Vin­cenzo Raimo, pro vicechan­cel­lor (global en­gage­ment) at the Univer­sity of Read­ing, said that the Hepi/Ad­vance HE study should pro­vide a “wake-up call” to uni­ver­si­ties to do more to “en­gage our do­mes­tic un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents with the benefits of in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion”.

“If [do­mes­tic stu­dents are] say­ing that the in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ments that most UK uni­ver­si­ties now have aren’t equip­ping them in the way that they ex­pected uni­ver­si­ties to do, it means that we’re fail­ing some­how,” he said.

Mr Raimo added that uni­ver­si­ties can “do more” to en­sure that the cur­ricu­lum and stu­dent ex­peri- ence is “more in­ter­na­tional”, which would lead to do­mes­tic stu­dents be­com­ing “more open to work­ing with” in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

In­creas­ing the num­ber of do­mes­tic stu­dents who study abroad would also help them “un­der­stand bet­ter some of the chal­lenges that in­ter­na­tional stu­dents face when they come to the UK”, he ar­gued, and mean that they “en­gage more” with foreign class­mates.

Colleen Ward, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Ap­plied Cross-cul­tural Re­search at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity of Welling­ton, who has con­ducted re­search on do­mes­tic New Zealand stu­dents’ at­ti­tudes to­wards in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, said that it is “naive to think that in­tro­duc­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents into in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion is go­ing to re­sult in trans­form­ing their do­mes­tic peers into aware global cit­i­zens – even though there is the po­ten­tial for this to oc­cur”.

“There are many rea­sons that neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes to­ward in­ter­na­tional stu­dents abound. Our re­search has shown, for one thing, that in­ter­na­tional stu­dents can be seen as a source of com­pe­ti­tion and threat, es­pe­cially when they rep­re­sent a rel­a­tively high pro­por­tion of en­rol­ments,” she said, adding that in­struc­tors also of­ten “lack the mo­ti­va­tion, con­fi­dence or skills to op­ti­mise the benefits of a cul­tur­ally di­verse class”.

Gigi Fos­ter, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in eco­nomics at the Univer­sity of New South Wales and au­thor of the Aus­tralian study, said that there is “much more that could be done to im­prove the way we han­dle the in­creased di­ver­sity in Aus­tralian stu­dent pop­u­la­tions”, cit­ing an in­creased em­pha­sis on English lan­guage com­pe­tence on cam­pus, “more or­gan­ised and higher-re­sourced fight­ing against or­gan­ised cheat­ing” and greater cel­e­bra­tions of stu­dents’ cul­tural di­ver­sity as ways in which in­sti­tu­tions could im­prove.

El­speth Jones, emerita pro­fes­sor of the in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of higher ed­u­ca­tion at Leeds Beck­ett Univer­sity, added that, at the UK “gov­ern­ment pol­icy level, there needs to be an aware­ness that con­stantly fo­cus­ing on in­creas­ing mo­bil­ity is not the sole an­swer to de­vel­op­ing global per­spec­tives”.

“In­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of the cur­ricu­lum at home and broader en­gage­ment with di­ver­sity is the only way to of­fer all stu­dents the benefits of in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion, rather than sim­ply the mo­bile elite,” she said.

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