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Is the future of internationalisation of higher education threatened?

  • FEB 24
  • Tags Academic Opening, Internationalisation, Higher Education, Nasima Badsha

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The academic year at the University of Stellenbosch Business School kicked off with its annual Academic Opening on 6 February 2020, under the theme of International Education. But while the business school is making remarkable headway in upping the ante with regards to the internationalisation of higher education, the evening’s keynote speaker did not ignore the obstacles that need to be overcome.

Nasima Badsha, who pioneered access, equity and social justice in the South African higher education system and played a key role in conceptualising a new higher education dispensation in the country, raised the question at the opening of the USB academic year function, with “in a rapidly changing global context how do we preserve the best aspects of internationalisation for future generations to enjoy?”

In a rapidly changing global context how do we preserve the best aspects of internationalisation for future generations to enjoy?

She said that internationalisation is closely related to the dynamic process of globalisation, implying the relationship between and amongst people, countries and systems and cultures. “Even though higher education takes many forms such as cross boarder movement of students and staff, research collaboration and joint degrees offered, internationalisation is threatened.”

She quoted from the provocative statements made recently by Philip Altbach and Hans de Wit who sited that Trumpism, Brexit and the rise of nationalist and anti-immigration policies in Europe is changing the landscape of global higher education, and that this fundamental shift in internationalisation means a re-thinking of the entire international project of universities world- wide is necessary.

Even though higher education takes many forms such as cross boarder movement of students and staff, research collaboration and joint degrees offered, internationalisation is threatened.

“Thankfully they do acknowledge that knowledge remains international and cross-national collaboration continues to increase. But a long side this they outline some challenges. They note an increase in problems pertaining to visas and an unwelcoming atmosphere for international students and staff across the UK and US. We are not immune to this in South Africa. We see visa delays of students and staff across the continent, and spites of Xenophobia.”

“There is an increasing disquiet about the dominance of English as the main language of scientific communication and scholarship – coming from the Netherlands, arguably one of the most internationally minded countries in the world, and in other countries, including Germany and Denmark, there is also debate about the negative impact of English on the quality of teaching.

There is an increasing disquiet about the dominance of English as the main language of scientific communication and scholarship.

She said another trend they highlighted concerns transnational education. A branch campus being established by the University of Groningen from the Netherlands, in Yantai, Shandong province in China, with China Agricultural University was suddenly cancelled by the university after protests by faculty and students due to possible limitations on academic freedom in China and lack of local consultation about the project.

“Chinese student groups in Australia and the Chinese government have been accused of trying to limit criticism of China and disrupt academic freedom. There has also been criticism, in Australia and elsewhere, of Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes for seeking to influence universities.”

In addition, she says, free intuition might also come to an end with Norway increasing visa fees for international students and critics claim that this might be a first step towards charging fees to international students. Two German states also have started to introduce fees for international students, a drastic break with the past.

“Altbach and De Witt acknowledge that although increasingly powerful political, economic and academic challenges poses a threat to the internationalisation process in Europe and North America, the non-Western world shows an increasing interest in internationalisation, even if there are some problems. China is becoming in many aspects academically closed, and India lacks relevant infrastructure, struggling to shape its academic structures to host large numbers of international students. South Africa and Brazil face serious political and economic instability that negatively affects the international focus that they had expanded over the past decade.”

Badsha concurred by adding that anecdotally fewer international students consider South Africa as an education provider post the student uprisings of 2015 and 2016.

“All these realities along with the growing threads of climate changes, and pandemic such as the Coronavirus, requires a serious re-thinking of our internationalisation approaches strategies, and the University of Stellenbosch Business School has an important leadership role to play in the discussion.”

The University of Stellenbosch Business School has an important leadership role to play in the [internationalisation] discussion.

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