Internationalising higher education

Internationalising higher education

Dr Hanan Khalifa, Head of Research and International Development at Cambridge English, explores why and how higher education should internationalise.

My job takes me to several parts of the world and provides me with the opportunity to meet university presidents and members of national councils for higher education. Although internationalisation of higher education is not a key point on my meetings' agenda, it always comes up in discussions, possibly, simply because I am an Egyptian who went through international education, worked in international contexts, and above all is a staff member of one of the highest ranking universities worldwide. I would like to share with you some of the questions I regularly receive and my responses.

Q. What delivery forms of internationalisation should we go for? 
Well, there are various and you are spoilt for choice. I’ll quote Healey who says, “transnational education involves a myriad of delivery, from distance-learning through franchising to a partner institution in the host country to an international branch campus”. There is the 2 + 2 model where your student completes two years at home then two years in an overseas university. There is also the 2 + 1 model which involves one year of study on an international work placement or at an affiliated university overseas. Students could stay in their home country for their entire degree level study yet still graduate with a UK accredited award. For example, Egypt has partnered with Heriot-Watt as an accrediting body for certain programs offered by certain state universities. In fact Egypt announced in 2014 that it is reforming its Higher Education based on the UK model. Newcastle University has opened a campus in Malaysia while Cornell opened one in Qatar (to give you an example). My advice would be: choose what works best for your context.

Q. Why should I think about internationalisation? Isn't our existing system good enough? 
It is not about good or bad, effective or ineffective. It is really about the global and interconnected society we are living in. It is about preparing 21st century graduates so that they succeed in an increasingly competitive job market. Internationalisation offers different and complimentary schools of thought and ways of doing things. It also exposes the different stakeholders to various communities of practices, all of which should ultimately lead to better global citizenship. Let’s not forget that transnational education isn’t a new thing. It has its roots way back in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Roman empire etc. At that time, the concept of seeking, sharing and transmitting knowledge among societies was driven by political, economic, educational and social needs. Today, the same drivers apply but with the added value of technological advances. We need to continue using these drivers for the benefits of humanity.

Q. So what would be your advice to best prepare for the challenges internationalisation brings with it, such as, intercultural sensitivity or ethical issues? 
Well, you need to define first, challenges for who? Is it for teachers, parents, students, families, admission officers, curriculum developers, textbook writers? I think teachers need to make the conscious effort of understanding their student’s previous learning experiences and the quality of education they have been exposed to prior to enrollment onto a course and their motivation to enrol on the course. Talk to colleagues who have been in a similar situation. What worked or did not work for them? Communicate with distant colleagues in the partner organisation and understand their teaching methods and assumptions about learning. And my top tip would be: Really get to know each other and not just sign up for a cultural awareness course. Perhaps read Nicholas Kristoff “Go West, Young People! and East!”
I’d like to end up by saying that stakeholders of transnational education programmes have the chance to develop new skills, to broaden their perspective and develop productive networks with international colleagues.

Dr Hanan Khalifa (PhD Language Testing)
Head of Research and International Development, Cambridge English

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