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The internationalization of higher education – Instalment 2

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Criticisms of internationalism

The costliness of the ventures described in part 1 – not just the real estate, but ensuring that the right faculty are on hand to teach – is enough to make many universities, however high their reputation, hesitate before opening overseas campuses.

However, any attempt to internationalize, even if does not involve real estate, is costly. This is what Nicola Hijlkema, who is currently vice rector for international relations at the Estonian Business School, Estonia, and who has 30 years' experience in the field, is at pains to point out.

Writing in an article in Global Focus Magazine, the European Foundation for Management Development's (EFMD) house magazine, she claims that,

"internationalisation is perhaps the most misunderstood word in the business school world" (Hijlkema, 2010).

For example, not all institutions understand the resource implications: hiring someone to run the international office, and developing a section of the website, are not sufficient, and can be no more than window dressing.

Instead, internationalization requires a clear strategy which involves thinking through students' entire experience, and why they are studying at your institution.

"It's not just a question of getting them in, you have to keep them happy, you have to adapt your curriculum, you may have to change your faculty, you definitely have to change your systems", claims Hijlkema.

Their costliness, and failure to think through resulting in poor quality, have led to a degree of cynicism and criticism.

From the point of view of the recipient, there is the fear that the experience may not be one of cultural exchange, but rather of absorption into a dominant group, or ghettoization.

The University of Hong Kong has undergone a profound programme of internationalization involving the use of experiential learning, adopting English as the lingua franca, and international study or work. However, the implementation of these reforms has faced significant hurdles, for example, Cantonese is still spoken in many social situations, while 80 per cent of the student population is from Hong Kong. In these conditions, international students tend to stick together. One student from South Africa said that although she had chosen Hong Kong because of its international reputation, she knew hardly any Chinese students (Fearn, 2010).

Whether "exporting" students to be educated abroad, or "importing" foreign educational programmes, there are dangers. Educating students abroad risks a brain drain in the donor country if these students do not return. And when Phil Baty (2009a) reported on how India was inviting in foreign providers, several commentators expressed concerns over a resurgence of British colonialism.

From the providers' point of view, some Americans have criticized their universities' overseas programmes as diluting the home offering: arguing the needs of Americans should come first. It is easy to dismiss those comments as xenophobic; however, those who consider the resource implications, and "look before they leap" are perhaps being wise. For example, Columbia University turned down the opportunity of opening a law school in Qatar because of the difficulty of maintaining the quality of faculty and students.

Thus, there is a real fear that intense overseas excursions may result not in increased global brand, but in a lower reputation both at home and abroad.

One of the biggest problems when running programmes abroad is the need to ensure the quality of the faculty. Exporting one's own faculty has its own problems, because commuting can exert a heavy toll on staff.

The first time, it may be exciting, the second time it's nice because you've begun to put down roots, the third time it's more of a chore and after a while people come to resent it because they don't consider teaching on foreign campuses to be their main responsibility.

Business school, INSEAD overcame these problems by recruiting faculty specifically for its Singapore campus, thus eliminating at the start any possible feelings of divided loyalty. This is not, however, a solution that is practical for the majority.