Documenting Complexity: ‘The incorporation of global perspectives’ in the higher education…



This paper summarises the findings of a small-scale research study, the aim of which was to explore the intentions of teachers who stated that they ‘incorporate global perspectives’ into their teaching. Seven teachers of health care professionals, working in a variety of higher education institutions around the UK, were interviewed using a semi-structured interview technique.

The interview schedules were analysed using Radnor’s framework for interpretive analysis (Radnor, 2002), in order to identify commonalities and differences both in relation to the teachers’ intentions and in relation to the different teaching activities they described. A range of perspectives were identified amongst the teachers, who were found to have a variety of personal motivations for incorporating global perspectives into their teaching. They described a wide variety of strategies for doing so, both in terms of the content of their teaching and in terms of the teaching processes they used. The results of the study illustrate the complexities both of defining ‘global perspectives’ in relation to higher education, and of identifying the underlying motivations that teachers and institutions may have for incorporating global perspectives into higher professional education.

As a result of analysing the interviews, a simple framework was devised to assist individual teachers when reflecting on how they might incorporate global perspectives into their teaching. It is believed that this framework could assist teachers to explore and reflect on their teaching practices—both the content of their teaching and the processes through which they facilitate student learning. The framework may also be of value to those at programme, institutional and wider levels who wish to explore how global perspectives can be incorporated into teaching within higher education.

The findings of the study suggest that there is a lack of clarity in relation to terminology used in relation to this topic area. The author proposes that to ensure progress in research and practice, a clearer set of terminology should be agreed upon to allow teachers to discuss their intentions and experiences using a shared language that is clearly understood by all.

Although the study focused specifically on the experiences of teachers of health care professionals, it is believed that the findings of this study are relevant to teachers of other subject areas in higher education.


Background to the study

This paper stems from a small-scale research project undertaken for the author’s dissertation for her MSc in Higher Professional Education. The aim of the project was to explore the intentions of teachers who said that they incorporate ‘global perspectives’ into their teaching, and to identify the different strategies they used within their teaching to achieve this.

The aim of this paper is to present the key findings of the research and to discuss the key issues that arose from analysing the interviews. A framework is presented that will assist both teachers and educationalists to reflect on how global perspectives may be incorporated into higher education.

The International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century (1996), on behalf of UNESCO, suggested that the role of higher education is two-fold: firstly, to promote the intellectual and social development of students, and secondly, to fulfil the requirements of employees. Francis (1993, p. 4) suggested that the experience of studying in higher education should be:

‘A process that prepares the community for successful participation in an increasingly interdependent world…the process should infuse all facets of the post-secondary education system, fostering global understanding and developing skills for effective living and working in a diverse world’.

McKenzie et al., (2003) note that within the United Kingdom (UK) there has been a gradual move to incorporate a global dimension into the curriculum within primary and secondary education, and also more recently within further and adult education. They suggest, however, that the higher education sector has been slower to embrace the incorporation of global perspectives into the curriculum. In very recent years, higher education institutes and individual teachers within higher education have begun to acknowledge the potential value and importance of incorporating global perspectives into curricula. Reflecting this, Bourn et al (2006) present a variety of case studies illustrating different ways that global perspectives have been incorporated into higher education within the UK. At the institutional level within UK higher education programmes, as well as at school and programme level, strategies and policies relating to the incorporation of global perspectives in higher education are now beginning to become more commonplace.

Policies published by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) have also indicated a gradual increase in momentum towards encouraging the incorporation of a global dimension into higher education. For example, the document ‘Putting the World into World Class Education’ (DfES, 2004) proposes a strategy ‘to equip children, young people and adults for life in a global society and work in a global economy’, setting out a package of proposals by which this can be achieved.

In relation to the higher professional education of health care professionals, teachers have to juggle many demands. For example, the Skills Strategy (DfES, 2003) emphasises the role of higher education in ‘harnessing knowledge for wealth creation’, with employability as a key priority. It is understandable that an underlying goal of higher professional education has to be the preparation of technically proficient, competent practitioners. But many teachers will also aspire to promote creative and innovative thinking amongst their students, encouraging their students’ personal as well as professional and academic development. They may wish to promote a critical stance amongst their students, and to raise their awareness of wider perspectives—for example, preparing students for working beyond their local area, and even for living and working outside the UK.

On reviewing literature related to the topic area prior to carrying out the project, it became clear that there is some degree of confusion relating to what exactly is meant by the term ‘the incorporation of global perspectives’ within the context of higher education. It was also clear that there is a range of terminology used, such as ‘internationalisation of the curriculum’, ‘globalisation of the curriculum’; ‘incorporating a global dimension’ (DFES, 2004), ‘sustainable education’ (Sterling, 2001) and ‘the incorporation of global perspectives’ (Lunn, 2006). Lunn (2008) notes the continuing confusion in relation to the use of terminology relating to the incorporation of global perspectives into higher education.

For the purposes of the research study, the author decided to use the phrase ‘the incorporation of global perspectives’, as used by Alexander and Newell Jones (2002, p. 2), who define the incorporation of global perspectives into teaching as:

‘(Promoting an) active understanding of the global dimension, including values and attitudes concerned with interdependence, sustainable development, global inequality, social justice, human rights, connections between the local and global society, and responsible citizenship’.


A purposive sample of seven participants involved in the higher professional education of healthcare professionals were recruited as participants for the study, through contacting a variety of relevant interest groups based within the UK. Individuals who believed that they incorporated global perspectives into their teaching were invited to contact the researcher should they wish to participate in the study.

A semi-structured interview schedule (see Table 1) was used in order to establish a focused but flexible dialogue between the researcher and each participant. This enabled the researcher to explore how individual teachers defined ‘the incorporation of global perspectives’ in relation to their own teaching experiences. All interviews were tape recorded to ensure that an accurate and detailed record was kept of each interview. After each interview took place, it was transcribed and analysed using Radnor’s framework for interpretive research (Radnor, 2002). Themes and sub-themes were identified, to aid subsequent interpretation of the data.

Table 1: Interview schedule for semi-structured interviews
  • How long have you been teaching in higher education? What subject or subjects do you currently teach
  • You have said that you ‘incorporate global perspectives’ into your teaching. What do you mean by this?
  • When did you start to incorporate global perspectives into your teaching and why?
  • Can you give me some specific examples of when you have incorporated global perspectives into your teaching?
  • What in your experience are the benefits of incorporating global perspectives into teaching within the teaching of health care professionals?
  • How have students responded when you have incorporated global perspectives into your teaching?
  • What benefits do you feel the incorporation of global perspectives in education can have:
    • to the health care system in the future?
    • to service users of the health service?
    • To the wider society in the UK?
    • To the global society?


The seven participants represented a variety of professions and subject areas within health care. All had experience working outside the UK, either as health care professionals or through working on international development projects. During the interviews, the participants provided rich descriptions both of their teaching experiences and of their perspectives on incorporating global perspectives into their teaching. A wide range of views were expressed by the participants about how they defined the incorporation of global perspectives into teaching, how global perspectives should be incorporated into the teaching of health care professionals, and how this could be achieved effectively. They all described specific incidents when they believed they had incorporated global perspectives into their teaching and discussed these in depth.

It was striking that each of the seven teachers had differing ideas about what the ‘incorporation of global perspectives’ might involve in relation to their own teaching. Each participant identified a range of underlying motives for incorporating global perspectives into their teaching, alongside a wide range of strategies through which they did so. The findings resulting from analysis of the interviews therefore reflected the great complexity of this subject area. The key findings of the study will now be discussed.

1. Terminology

The term ‘the incorporation of global perspectives’ had been chosen by the author as the basis for the study, including for the wording of the interview schedule (see Table 1). However, within the seven interviews all of the participants used a range of terms when describing and discussing their teaching activities. When analysing the interviews, it appeared that most of the interviewees used terminology interchangeably, and possibly unconsciously. When questioned about this, they struggled to define individual terms clearly or differentiate between them. Participant A, for example, used the terms ‘globalisation’ and ‘internationalisation’ seemingly interchangeably. In their interview Participant A acknowledged some confusion in relation to the terminology they used, and tried to make sense of the two different terms and how they defined them:

‘For me, [‘globalisation’] is about looking at how different cultures, or groups within cultures, come together to understand each others’ experiences. Which is different to ‘internationalisation’, which is ‘making links’…I see ‘internationalisation’ as different people from different communities, communicating but from their own..keeping their own identities; whereas ‘globalisation’ for me is a ‘merge’…’

The study findings therefore indicate that there is confusion amongst teachers regarding terminology in relation to the incorporation of global perspectives in higher education. This suggests that further discussion, and possibly research, would be valuable in order to promote clarity of terminology when debating this topic area. This would assist teachers and educationalists to participate in clearer discussion and debate when reflecting on their teaching practices and when planning teaching strategies and policies.

2. Underlying values and motives when incorporating global perspectives into higher education

On analysis of the interviews, it became clear that each of the individual participants had a range of underlying motivations for incorporating global perspectives into their teaching. No two participants shared exactly the same motivations for doing so. Some participants appeared to focus mainly on their role in organising overseas elective placements for students, and in facilitating students’ learning during and after these placements. Other participants were particularly enthusiastic about encouraging students to work overseas in their future careers. Some participants felt that it was particularly important to incorporate political and social issues at international level in relation to health and social care. Others focused more on the importance of equipping students with a wider perspective on health and health care, promoting debate amongst students and encouraging them to explore beyond ‘parochial’, traditional Western approaches.

Edwards et al., (2003) noted the potential for ‘many-pronged’ motives for incorporating global perspectives into the curriculum, and suggested that such motives may be either pragmatic or ideological in origin. Knight and de Wit (1995) reflect this viewpoint, suggesting that underlying motives for the incorporation of global perspectives into education can be academic, social, cultural, political or economic. It is therefore important for teachers to reflect on their individual motivations carefully. This is also true at a wider level—for example, leaders of higher education institutions and programme leaders need to explore their underlying motivations for forming policies to incorporate global perspectives into higher education curricula.

3. Potential components of teaching when incorporating global perspectives into teaching: Teaching Content and Teaching Processes

On analysis of the interviews, it became clear that all of the participants spoke of two key aspects of their teaching, which appeared to interlink closely. Firstly, they described the content of their teaching—discussing the topic areas they felt were important when incorporating global perspectives into teaching health care professionals. Secondly, they described the teaching processes they used to facilitate student learning in order to make the incorporation of global perspectives a success. These two aspects of their teaching will now be discussed in greater depth.

3a. Content

Within the interviews, all of the participants discussed the different topic areas that they explored with students when incorporating global perspectives into their teaching. On analysis of the interviews, the content of their teaching fell into three main categories: international, intercultural, and political, socio-economic.

i. An international dimension

Firstly, all of the participants described how they incorporated an international dimension into the subjects they taught. For example, many of them described how they taught students about health care conditions that might be seen outside the UK, some describing this as ‘tropical health’:

It’s essentially what used to be called ‘tropical health’, which is actually the health of…poor communities in various parts of the world…I like to incorporate…issues about…internationalisation of health issues, travel, communications,…increasing students’ awareness of…conditions which are unusual in the UK….I try to…widen the horizons of students a little bit, outside the very narrow confines of hospitals, where most of what medical students learn is picked up (Participant C).

Some of the participants described how they encouraged students to consider health care literature and research from abroad when exploring health care issues in their studies. Some supported students who were going on elective placements outside the UK and others actively encouraged students to consider working abroad in their future careers.

Some of the participants discussed how they felt that it was important to support students who came from outside the UK to study on their programmes. Of these teachers, some also highlighted the importance of taking these students’ experiences and perspectives into account when teaching, using them as an opportunity for all students to widen their perspectives in relation to health care practices:

I think that the comparison between the British health system and other health systems is useful…if you’ve been brought up as a patient in the NHS, and working in the NHS…with no experience of other countries…it encourages you to look at the way in which other health systems work, and our health systems work, with a more critical eye, maybe? (Participant D).

Echoing this, Participant E emphasized that health care professionals can learn from alternative approaches to health care and from knowledge that can be obtained from overseas:

We are a global workforce…a lot of increasing manoeuvring across the world…To take forward our work in health care and in our profession, we need to learn from each other…

All of the participants therefore said that they incorporated an international dimension into their teaching, though each described a different combination of approaches to doing this.

ii. An intercultural dimension

All of the participants described how they incorporated an intercultural dimension into their teaching. Many of the participants described how they would discuss with students how to provide health care services appropriate for a culturally diverse client population:

When you recognise diversity…you’re intrinsically valuing the personand that must be the pillar of all health care, you know.. the starting point has to be some degree of mutual respect, really…and I think it comes from that, from valuing the person because one is attuned to and sensitive to diversity… (Participant E).

Some, though not all, of the interviewees also discussed how they taught students about intercultural issues in relation to teamwork and management in health care, fostering effective collaborative working.

Several of the participants described how they taught about health care practices and philosophies not normally taught within standard UK curricula for training health care professionals—for example, encouraging students to consider and explore alternatives to what might be considered ‘standard’, ‘Western’, ‘medicalised’ approaches to the care and treatment of clients:

From day 1 of the programme, we talk about Eastern and Western approaches to health care. And in fact we almost concentrate on Eastern approaches of health care to try and get our students to get away from seeing everything as orthodox medicine with the health frameworks orthodox medicine use. So we give them a quantum leap, which is very hard for them. To get [students] to understand that there are other approaches which are significant and important and inform practice and have informed the development of Western approaches as well. And so within the curriculum we run Eastern and Western approaches side by side (Participant A).

Similarly, Participant G suggested that students’ clinical practice was enhanced by this approach:

For the professional, …I can see that their clinical approach is better, as they may be more aware of how other practices may be carried out, so they are able to incorporate them.

iii. A political, social and economic dimension

Thirdly, many of the participants discussed how they incorporated political, social and economic dimensions into their teaching, raising students’ awareness of issues relevant to health care. These participants discussed how they would link to issues such as social policy, economics, environmental issues, social justice and citizenship within their teaching. They expressed a desire to promote students’ awareness of these issues and to raise their awareness of their potential to contribute in the future as citizens both in their personal lives and in their work as health care professionals:

You cannot ignore the political, social and economic dimensions that impact on health…(Participant F).

I think the political element is in relation to issues of other forms of globalisation…of the market in health care professionals…the aspects of health and development which are inter-related to each other…food sources, education, water supply, and all those sorts of issues which are not directly in the control of health professionals, but which have to be addressed at a political level rather than as a…at a personal or even an institutional level. So…those elements of the global, political landscape, which are important and relevant to health (Participant C).

3b. Teaching processes

As well as discussing the content they incorporated into their teaching in order to broaden students’ perspectives on health care practice, the participants also discussed the teaching processes. The participants felt that the way they taught students, in addition to what they taught them, was a vital factor in the success of the incorporation of global perspectives into their teaching. In particular, the importance of encouraging a climate in which students felt free and comfortable to question, challenge and debate appeared to be an overriding theme throughout the interviews:

I think students need to be given an opportunity to get their teeth into something, to debate…to find out who they are, what their prejudices are (Participant A).

Alongside this, many of the participants spoke about how they aimed to help students to develop skills in effective communication and collaboration, for example, through facilitated discussion and group activities.

Some of the participants discussed how they aimed to promote a sense of citizenship amongst students, encouraging them to examine how they might be able to contribute positively to the wider society—locally, nationally and globally—in the future both as professionals and in their personal lives:

…if it just makes people (students) better, more thoughtful, more aware citizens then that should spill over into their professional life, and make those qualities ones that they demonstrate as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, or whatever (Participant F).

Some of the participants said that they hoped to equip students with a critical stance to all aspects of their learning and to their professional lives, encouraging students to critique what they heard, saw and were told; and encouraging them to challenge their own and others’ professional practice. Some of the participants described how they encouraged students to question their values and assumptions both as professionals and as individuals. Related to this, some participants expressed a wish to encourage creativity and innovative thinking amongst students, through fostering an open and inquiring attitude to learning among students, to equip them for living and working in a complex and ever-changing world.

Discussion: A framework for teachers working in higher education

As a result of the analysis of the interviews, the diagram below (Figure 1) was devised, to aid discussion and debate regarding the incorporation of global perspectives into higher education at all levels. The framework could be used as a simple tool to help individual teachers who wish to explore how they might incorporate global perspectives into their own teaching, and may also be helpful for those planning programmes or devising institutional strategies.

fig 1

Figure 1

The three interconnecting circles within the diagram symbolize the potential areas of teaching content that teachers can incorporate into their teaching. The diagram illustrates that these can interlink, and that it is possible to incorporate all three dimensions of content into one’s teaching simultaneously.

The outer area of the diagram, surrounding the three circles, symbolizes the teaching processes used by teachers when incorporating global perspectives into their teaching. It is suggested that the combination of the teaching processes employed and the teaching content taught can be the key to the success, or otherwise, of the incorporation of global perspectives into teaching. The diagram therefore illustrates that incorporating global perspectives can involve a variety of subject areas, and a variety of teaching approaches—giving the individual teacher flexibility and freedom in how they may wish to incorporate global perspectives within their own teaching.

This framework has some parallels with Oxford Brookes University’s framework (Oxford Brookes University, 2008), which encourages teachers to focus on three key aspects of teaching—the incorporation of global perspectives, intercultural/cross-cultural capability and responsible citizenship.


The study findings have been valuable, firstly in that they have provided a foundation for the formation of a simple framework to assist teachers who wish to explore how they might incorporate global perspectives into their teaching within higher education. This framework has the potential to be developed further into a simple ‘toolkit’ to help teachers explore their practice and develop their teaching. It could also be helpful for a wider audience, for example, at programme level or at institutional level, to assist people when considering how the concept of incorporating global perspectives can be applied in different settings when planning education policies, teaching programmes, and so on.

The study has also indicated that there is a need to clarify the terminology used in relation to the incorporation of global perspectives within higher education. As stated above, this issue needs attention; a research project to explore this issue further might be valuable, and a shared vocabulary could be agreed on to promote clarity when discussing and debating this topic area.

Analysis of the interviews indicated that individual teachers’ motivations for incorporating global perspectives may vary. Individual teachers’ intentions may differ from and potentially even conflict with those of other teachers. This illustrates that the incorporation of global perspectives into higher education is an area of great complexity. The potential for conflicting intentions and motivations among teachers may need to be explored further on a personal level by individual teachers, as well as at programme level, and at wider levels. This could also be the subject of a future larger-scale research study.

However, alongside this, the findings also indicate that there is room for flexibility and creativity in terms of how individual teachers might incorporate global perspectives into their own teaching. Individual teachers may have different underlying interests and motivations, but despite, or indeed because of this, they have the potential to incorporate global perspectives using a variety of strategies that can enhance student learning in a way that can prepare students both for their future work as professionals as well as for their future lives as citizens, locally and globally.


Thanks to Katy Newell Jones, who supervised me in my research.


Mary Woolliams is a registered nurse and has worked in the UK, Australia and India. In 2003, she became a Lecturer on the Adult Nursing programme at Oxford Brookes University. She is now a Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing, and she also teaches on the interprofessional education programmes for undergraduates within the School.

Contact details

Mary Woolliams
Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing, MSc in Higher Professional Education
Oxford Brookes University
School of Health & Social Care, Jack Straws Lane, OX3 0FL
Tel: 01865-482620
Fax: 01865-482775
e-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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