The multilayered and inter-subjective nature of internationalisation within higher education and its construction by different agents and discourses is now widely acknowledged. The diversity of university populations, and a doubtful link between institutional IoC rhetoric and its impact on actual practice, reinforces and enriches this complexity. As there is currently little knowledge about implementation of internationalisation at Brookes, we have few foundations for valid, recognisable categories of good practice. Our research project, conducted in parallel to other OCSLD-led projects into internationalisation, proposes to interrogate those whose learning experience is now at the heart of Brookes strategy: the students.
Using data collected from semi-structured interviews with groups of 5 to 6 home, EU and international UG/PG students from a wide range of Brookes’ fields/courses, the first stage of our research aims to identify areas of deficit and incoherence, strength and intelligibility in student perceptions of the ‘international’ University. These perceptions can contribute to building a distinctive Brookes’ IoC model, inflected by a long-term commitment to educating our students towards critical intercultural competence (Guilherme, 2002). As data collection progresses, we aim to problematise student discourses around this theme through an engagement with models of intercultural communicative competence and critical citizenship, and ways of framing them pedagogically.
Pilot data confirms that IoC is far from a neutral concept (Leask, 2005). Student responses to the semi-structured interview provided insights into two polarities in their experience: perceptions of (dis)preferred practices and their ideals and core values
- Student perceptions of (dis)preferred practices
- ‘Staff are too accommodating [to international students]. They get more help/praise for effort as they don’t know culture and language’.
- ‘OBU goes the opposite way and does too much for international students and not enough for home students’.
- ‘Professor asks for contributions from other cultures; it makes it richer.’
- ‘In some classes we actively use international knowledge but in others we don’t at all’.
- Undergraduate student core values: idealised visions
- ‘Multiculturally aware’
- ‘Knowing how to work with other cultures’
- ‘Being positively open to other’s ideas’
- ‘Knowledge about the outside world’
These pilot data student voices suggest a divide between stated ideals and actual experience, paralleling dichotomies at institutional level. They also pinpoint connections and disconnections between the different student constituencies interfacing with internationalisation at Brookes: international students, UK students, EU students, and mature students. There are tensions, unevenness and inequalities in the construction of international identities relative to the Brookes internationalisation manifesto: ‘Our aim is for graduates to be able to live and work effectively with others in a pluralistic society (…) and strengthen democracy’ (Raftery, 2007). Feelings of resentment of cultural others, concomitant with a ‘them-and-us’ mindset suggest that until there are clearer, constitutive rules about how internationalisation is to be played at Brookes, some home students will fail to develop intercultural communicative competence skills necessary to emerge as global graduates. At present, development of intercultural understanding is largely focused on the needs of international students, and little is being done to minimise an intercultural skills gap between our two main intake streams.
Our collecting of student discourse data about this critical element of internationalisation, the curriculum, will continue until February 2008, when it will be analysed and lead to a strategy document. This document will offer generative frameworks for colleagues to enhance teaching and assessment for international learning. As university educators we bear responsibility for shaping our students for the global and local public sphere. We would do well to address how higher education furthers cultural division and/or understanding and rise to the reflexive challenge of developing new international vocabularies and subject positions (Giroux, 2004) within our individual and collective practices.
Jane Spiro is the Teaching and Learning Coordinator, Teacher Education and Professional Development Division, WIE. She has been course manager of the MA for English Language Teachers and Head of Applied Linguistics at Brookes, and formerly ran materials writing, testwriting, and teacher development projects in Mexico, Poland, China, India, Hungary and Switzerland. She has written several papers on alternative processes of assessment for Macmillan and Multilingual Matters, two resource books for teachers published by Oxford University Press, and recently completed a doctorate exploring teacher/learner change and creativity.
Giroux, H. A. (2004), ‘Betraying the Intellectual Tradition: Public Intellectuals and the Crisis of Youth’, Chapter 1 in A. Phipps & M. Guilherme (eds.), Critical Pedagogy: Political Approaches to Language and Intercultural Communication, Clevedon, Buffalo, Toronto, Sydney: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Guilherme, M. (2002), Critical Citizens for an Intercultural World, Clevedon, Buffalo, Toronto, Sydney: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Leask, B. (2005), ‘Internationalisation of the Curriculum and Intercultural Engagement – A Variety of Perspectives and Possibilities’, Refereed paper presented at the Australian International Education Conference (AIEC), Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, October 11–14, 2005, Queensland, Australia.
Raftery, J. (2007), Oxford Brookes University Internationalisation Strategy.