Skip to content

CSSHE Panel. The state of internationalization on Canadian campuses: Results from Univcan’s institutional surveys.


Some questions derived from reading the results
I am grateful to the AUCC, now Universities Canada, for compiling this survey and enabling us to get a snapshot of the national picture of internationalization in Canadian higher education in our times. Internationalization research often addresses what is happening within the transnational higher education regime with a focus on developments within national or regional systems that have much more centralized degrees of control. The Canadian system, with its strong role for provincial direction, is something of an outlier when studied in comparison to Australia, Europe, or the UK. We need to understand the ways our developments are matching these developments elsewhere and where we are diverging from them. The survey is valuable and it is fascinating. The information it provides and the gaps it identifies require our attention, as does its silences in certain areas. Sponsored by Universities Canada, it is written from the perspective of this constituency, with a representative on the Advisory Committee from the International Association of Universities, the American Council on Education, 2 university Presidents, 1 professor and department chair, and one manager of an office of international relations: Rhonda Friesen, the chair of this panel today. This is a good range of representation and a sensible committee size for getting things done.
But I wonder: Would consultation with other organizations that have internationalization committees have made a difference in the framing and conclusions of the report? I am thinking here of faculty-focussed associations such as the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, and the Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Canada. These are all bodies that represent the faculty investments in internationalization. Their perspective could valuably enrich the institutional and administrative view privileged in this report. Furthermore, would consultation with the three federal granting councils have helped round out some of the areas where information is currently scanty? I ask these questions because research seldom gets the attention it deserves in discussions of internationalization. The focus more often falls on student recruitment, mobility, and dollars—the issues my colleagues on this panel are addressing.
My presentation considers Chapter 4, on Teaching, learning, and faculty engagement, and Chapter 5, on International research collaboration. These are two parts of the survey where information is scanty and more research needs to be done. I will raise questions about faculty engagement in internationalization in relation to research partnerships and transnational collaborations, curriculum development, and pedagogical innovation and I will raise faculty concerns about the ways in which internationalization is being used to support measurement and impact assessments that seem to reduce individual faculty and program autonomy.
Chapter 4 reports that “In line with competency-based learning models, some universities are defining relevant learning outcomes related to international competencies that all their undergraduates should achieve.” However, currently “50 % have no such plans.” The report does not address faculty concerns with these initiatives, although they have been expressed for years by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), particularly in relation to establishing benchmarks and identifying generic competencies across disciplines, institutions, and countries. Although the survey does not mention the OECD AHELO initiative specifically, this initiative seems relevant to what is being envisioned here. The AHELO initiative, you may remember, “was set up to compare learning outcomes in different fields in different countries” (Altbach 1). Some refer to it as PISA for universities. The pilot was deemed a failure in 2012, but in 2015, it looks as if it is about to be revived. The instrument used, “based on the US Collegiate Learning Assessment” (Altbach 1) would impose a nation-specific methodology onto an international system. The cost for such an imposition, many fear, is not just local autonomy but also essential elements of distinctive forms of knowledge and learning.
Crucially, the UC survey does not know how such goals for achieving international competencies are being envisioned, administered, or assessed in the ten per cent of Canadian universities who have actually defined them, or in the 32% currently working to define them in terms of learning outcomes, The survey states that “Just how this assessment is being done within universities and what outcomes are being attained is an important question for future study, if internationalization efforts are to be measured in part by their impact on students” (29-30). I agree it is an important question for future study, but I question that proviso. Impact on students is important, but by moving immediately to the student experience, this paragraph ignores the impact on what is being taught, how it is taught and how learned, and how this focus on measuring outcomes may impact genuine learning. What will happen to dimensions of learning that are not amenable to coordinated measurement across diverse systems? The report mentions that “Workshops on global learning assessments have been offered at 8% of universities” (30). I would like to learn more about the subject matter and structure of such workshops, and what constituencies they were meant to serve. Are they designed for university administrators or for faculty who are incorporating international dimensions into their teaching and research?
The survey usefully acknowledges that “Faculty willingness to undertake efforts to internationalize teaching and research is partly related to the institutional incentives for doing so” (30). Currently, only “6% of universities have institution-wide policies” (30) in this area. Just as important as the absence of clear incentives for faculty to internationalize, are the many currently existing, and growing, institutional disincentives for doing so. Not only are there very few rewards for working internationally, but speaking from my own experience, I see many barriers. We are told that “80% of Canadian universities…are actively supporting faculty efforts to incorporate an international dimension to their work and teaching,” but we are not given specifics as to how this support operates or what it involves let alone what principles guide it. Given the survey’s findings elsewhere about faculty and student preferences for shrinking internationalization into largely transatlantic engagements, any global forms of internationalization still seem remote from realization. The gap between two statements on page 30 of Chapter 4 is puzzling. Eighty per cent of responding institutions are “actively supporting” internationalization but at the same time “87% have no formal guidelines” in this matter. In other words, much of what is happening remains ad hoc.
The recognition of barriers emerges most clearly in Chapter 5, in relation to research funding and institutional support, especially in relation to different risk profiles and overhead costs. These may be related to the increased bureaucratization and institutionalization of internationalization more generally.
I am disappointed that “the survey was unable to gather useful data about the financing of international research efforts.” Although they asked, they received few answers. The survey therefore lacks a comprehensive aggregate portrayal of international research funding at Canadian universities. This is a big gap. As the authors conclude, “it would be desirable to track this financial data for an overall picture of this dimension of internationalization in Canadian universities” (34). What does it tell us when this information is not readily available? Three case study examples are provided of some of the international research collaborations currently underway in lieu of the larger global picture. These are partnership and network projects built around an interdisciplinary inquiry conducted across national borders. We know such projects are underway in many places but we still have no information for contextualizing them within the Canadian higher education frame.
In concluding, I am especially interested in the frameworks assumed by the survey and the ways in which those frameworks shape the directions identified for future developments and research. In 2005, Jan Aart Scholte concluded that “Most accounts of globalization have been silent on its consequences for knowledge frameworks” (Globalization :27). This 2014 survey concludes that much the same may be said today about the consequences of internationalization initiatives for knowledge frameworks, knowledge production, and knowledge sharing across borders. The question of knowledge frameworks is not raised as an issue here except to reassure readers that “core academic values, quality and equity remain paramount considerations” (40). As a postcolonial scholar working with a project on Ethical Internationalization in Higher Education, I am interested in challenging the idea that internationalization is equivalent to homogenization according to a Western and Anglophone model.
The survey indicates that student and faculty continue to share a largely transatlantic imaginary, focused on Europe, in contrast to administrations that put China and to a lesser extent India at the top of their priorities. Ironically, Canada’s decentralized university system has led to a much greater homogenization in the setting of priorities than more centrally managed systems achieve. Almost every university administration in Canada identifies increased links with China as a priority but that priority is not reflected in faculty engagement within curricular, pedagogical, or research internationalization initiatives. The survey correctly sees this as a problem. I am arguing it is an even deeper problem than is recognized here.
My reading of these sections of the survey leads me to raise the following questions. How are internationalization learning goals currently being set? How are they currently being evaluated? How best should they be evaluated? The survey asks if these should be assessed at the program, curriculum, or pedagogical level (30). But it does not fully consider the criteria for such assessments. For example, the map used to illustrate global connections is still biased toward the trans-Atlantic –as are student and faculty goals (p.32). How might the map be altered to privilege trans-Pacific connections instead? How might criteria for assessment be similarly de-Europeanized and de-colonized?
What are the disincentives for faculty to engage in internationalization initiatives? What, if any, are the rewards? In the institutionalization and bureaucratization of internationalization initiatives, is there a discrepancy between the rhetoric and the reality? The survey notes that international research remains a big gap in the data (34). How might that gap be filled? The report relies on university administrators for its data. How might this informant pool be broadened?
The survey ends with a boxed statement that seems meant to be reassuring but that raises alarm bells for me on two fronts. The final words promise: “While strengthening international linkages will continue to serve a range of interests among various stakeholders, all parties will want to ensure that core academic values, quality and equity remain paramount considerations” (40). This statement implicitly recognizes some Canadian fears that our quality might be diluted or threatened by some internationalization initiatives. It assumes that we know what these “core academic values” mean and how they are best ensured and measured, so that internationalization will function as a useful add-on to a stable system and provide a new source of funds while core business remains unchanged. But there are other ways of understanding internationalization. These other ways seek to redefine what the university means by quality and equity through expanding our knowledge frameworks beyond those determined by an Anglocentric West. For example, there is a debate as to whether internationalization should mean more foreign languages or just more English. Many reports on internationalization equate it with universities outside the Anglosphere offering more courses in English. Such a view downplays the values such universities might bring from within their own cultural knowledge systems. The language question is hugely complex but it is easier to grasp than other questions about the frameworks that determine what value and equity mean, and what they could mean. Such questions need to be addressed if internationalization initiatives are to meet their full potential.
Works Cited
“Canada’s Universities in the World: AUCC Internationalization Survey 2014.
Altbach, Philip G. “AHELO: the myth of measurement and comparability.” 15 May 2015. University World News Global Edition Issue 367.
Accesssed 5/18/2015.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: