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How Political Whims and Woes Have Afflicted Education Internationalization

How Political Whims and Woes Have Afflicted Education Internationalization

It was back into the summer of 2018 when Dr. Hans de Wit, a renowned authority on global higher education, came up with a call for essays on wins and losses of academic internationalization over the past quarter-century to be featured in University World News. Irina Shcheglova, researcher at the IOE Center for the Sociology of Higher Education, was only too enthralled to take up this challenge.       

Over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, education internationalization came to be increasingly associated with a capacity to transcend the pragmatics of competing on the battleground for international students, resources and academic recognition, as arguably representing a powerful force that could well act to spur more streamlined and mutually beneficial cross-border cooperation beyond politics.

As Irina Shcheglova turns to explore the successes and failures of the initiatives surrounding education internationalization during the past quarter-century, she cannot but infer that the overall optimism about the positive impacts these processes could have had on academia was only too quick to dwindle away. Politics turns out to have stepped in elsewhere across the economy and society, and as it sneaks into any single realm of life it invariably works to ruthlessly wipe away much of the good that it has taken societies years or even decades to create, Irina argues. In addition, barring the recent tide of more heightened confrontation on the global political arena, the move toward academic internationalization has started to lose its momentum from within and has often been at odds with its purported imperatives. For example, as international admissions are still very often viewed as purely a source of economic gain, this acts to defame the commitments for reinforcing sustainability by promoting education opportunities for multiculturalism and global citizenship.  

In the U.S. and the UK, which have traditionally ranked among the frontrunners in higher education internationalization, recent political turnarounds have sparked a sag in foreign student intake. As the Trump office ruled to administer a travel ban regarding visitors from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, this has curtailed student traffic from the Muslim world on the whole. In the UK, Brexit may also take its toll on international admissions and the appeal of British universities given that preferential tuition policies for EU students are likely to be abolished. Also, following a recent row between Canadian and Saudi Arabian governments in the summer of 2018, all Saudi Arabian students in Canada were requested to return to their home country.        

Meanwhile, as political factors have led certain nations to falter in the race for education internationalization, there have appeared other countries that are now placed pretty well to claim the lead. Thus, in Australia, an increased emphasis has been accorded by the state to extending the global reach of national education and fostering cross-border admissions. In Japan, the growing focus on internationalization has resulted in a sustained expansion of the nation’s foreign student body since 2013. In Russia, recent policy steps to support inbound mobility have involved establishing more tuition-free international programs and public scholarships for overseas students.         


Is Internationalization of HE at the Mercy of Politics? by Irina Shcheglova