Thursday, July 2, 2015

When Internationalization goes wrong

Today’s post looks at the dark side of student mobility.  In her piece from the summer 2013 edition of International Higher Education, The False Halo of Internationalization, Jenny J. Lee looks at how internationalization efforts that bring foreign students to the US can be lacking in quality or even exploitative.  Lee investigates the experiences of international postdoctoral research scientists and student athletes, and finds that while their presence at US universities is often touted as successful internationalization, often times the student does not benefit from the arrangement.  To start, Lee claims that for International postdocs, many faculty supervisors hold stereotypes that scientists from the US and Europe are more skilled at theoretical science, whereas Asian scientists are more skilled at technical science.  Thus, international postdocs from Asia are often forced into a path of being lab supervisors on temporary contracts, becoming, in effect, “postdocs for life.”  She argues that despite the fact that international researchers are being included in US labs, calling this exploitative pattern “internationalization” is counter-effective to successful internationalization. 

Lee then goes on to discuss the exploitative relationship that universities often have with international student athletes.  International students are often recruited to US college sports programs as a way of bringing top-notch athletic prestige to the university.  Additionally, these students can be and often are shown off as a display of the university’s commitment to internationalization.  In reality, while these students do present an opportunity for internationalization by sharing their experiences with the university’s domestic students, the typical result is often the opposite: social isolation or harassment.  In addition, the universities often put international athletes into less academically demanding (and beneficial) majors, so that they can focus on their athletics.

The author concludes that “it is naïve and irresponsible to perceive internationalization as being inherently good.  Internationalization is not merely a set of observable activities but also involves social and education responsibility.”  She argues in cases like these, internationalization can’t solely represent the interests of the host institutions, but must represent the interests of the international students as well.  Furthermore, it is not the international students’ responsibility to fix these issues, but that of the institution.  University administrators must impress on their faculty and students the benefits and importance of internationalization.  In this conclusion, Lee reminds me very much of Jane Knight.  In Knight’s 2012 piece Five Truths about Internationalization, she posits that “Internationalization is a means to an end, not an end unto itself.”  In Lee’s scenarios, university administrators are claiming that incorporating international student athletes and postdocs constitutes internationalization.  This is a mindset of internationalization being and end goal, not a means to achieving a goal.  Furthermore, Knight claims that internationalization should “should not overshadow or erode the importance of local context.”  Lee would seem to be arguing a similar, but converse point: if you are going to incorporate foreign students into your university as a form of internationalization, you can’t totally ignore their global context, as is done her scenarios.  As she notes, it is the job of administrators to educate faculty and students on internationalization and its benefits.  Much like Knight, the bottom line of Lee’s piece is that university administrators can’t get so tied up in applying the term “internationalization” to programs that they lose sight of what the programs are supposed to be achieving, and that all parties are benefiting from them.

Knight, Jane. "Five myths about internationalization." International Higher Education 62.1 (2011): 14-15.

Lee, J. (2015). The false halo of internationalization. International Higher Education, (72), 5-7.

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