Over the last few years, internationalisation has moved from being on the fringe of institutional interest to the very core of higher education activities. It is, for example, already an increasingly influential factor in fiscal terms. However, this new role and function in the “mainstream” of higher education activity has generated new challenges and roles for internationalization. At the same time, various misconceptions and adverse effects – often referred to as the “dark side of internationalization” – have come to light. It would appear that the internationalization of higher education is in the midst of an identity crisis. Together, these recent developments have begged the question: is internationalization of higher education losing its way? Is it, as Jane Knight so aptly puts it, losing “its true north”?
In response, leading thinkers in the field, such as Knight, Brandenburg and De Wit, have begun indicating towards and even talking about the emergence of “post-internationalization”. What is great about post-internationalization is that it invites us to address this “identity crisis” hands on. It invites us to dig deeper, to redefine our values and rationales, and to work towards really achieving something that is meaningful. Post-internationalization also invites us to steer away from the more simplistic and limited, ”one way only” view so frequently associated to globalization, which has been highly influential in shaping our approach to the internationalization of higher education in recent years.
My article in SYL’s recent publication on the commodification of education could be characterised as an humble attempt to respond to these invitations. I do this by looking beyond the traditional approaches and common perceptions frequently associated with internationalisation. The analysis aims to shed light not only on the myths, adverse affects and misconceptions surrounding internationalisation in higher education but also the narrow perspective through which internationalisation and globalisation in higher education have traditionally, and perhaps misleadingly, been perceived and defined. Drawing on experts and on recent discussion, I also attempt to begin the work of setting some of the strands of the newly emerging themes of the discussion in a joint context.
Responding to the post-internationalization challenge requires us to take a more comprehensive and holistic perspective, and to place and view the local context within it. It is in this spirit that the second half of the article looks due north in the Finnish case at how the budding shift towards post- internationalisation poses both challenges and opportunities for Finnish higher education.
Limited by the narrow perspectives and paradigms that are now being used to define internationalisation, mainstream discussion on the internationalization of higher education in Finland has overlooked many of the merits and potential of Finnish higher education, the system in particular. In fact, Finland may well be in a unique position to respond to the post-internationalisation challenge because of its already internationally renowned brand and its social and educational profile. (This also begs the question whether Finland also has more to lose in the face of the “dark side of internationalization”.)
The onset of “post-internationalisation” will most likely prove to be a real challenge for those who engage in international activities in higher education such as cross-border export, revenue generation, financial integration into the global higher education market, and attracting skilled students. It is therefore imperative that universities, the people working in the higher education sector and political actors in Finland take heed of and, when necessary, embrace these new developments.
With all that being said, I would like to remind that post-internationalisation challenge is, above all, about engaging in self-reflection. The idea is to learn from the past and from (the mistakes of) those who have acted as international trailblazers in global higher education provision. This exercise can then be used as a platform for reviewing and reconstructing international activities accordingly and on a more sustainable and ethical basis. Indeed, perhaps now is the time for all of us to pause, reflect, dig deeper and to find meaning. And as for Finnish higher education? Well, if we are lucky in this endeavour, we may find the “true north” of internationalisation in more ways than one.
Henni Saarela, KM, kansainvälisten asioiden sihteeri, Oulun yliopiston ylioppilaskunta
SYL julkaisi tiistaina 16.4.2013 artikkelikokoelman Tiedosta kauppatavaraa? – näkökulmia koulutuksen kaupallistumiseen ja kansainvälistymiseen (toim. Juuso Leivonen & Juhana Harju).
Kokoelmassa ilmestyi Henni Saarelan artikkeli “Internationalisation in Higher Education – Losing its “True North”?”