Is Globalization Good or Bad for International Education?

The answer to this question, according to the authors of IIE’s spring 2014 edition of IIENetworker is, “it depends.” While we tend to think of internationalization and globalization as harmonious, even synonymous, this issue of IIE’s biannual magazine makes important distinctions between the two and points out the benefits—along with potential drawbacks—of rapid globalization.

So how might globalization be bad for international education?

Among the panelists at a recent roundtable discussion at IIE were Jeffrey Peck and Stephen Hanson, guest editors of the spring 2014 IIENetworker. Peck and Hanson initiated the discussion by highlighting four potential dangers of globalization described within the magazine.

The first two regarded the homogenization of higher education. Various types of standardization can be great for partnerships and student mobility. “But if all institutions have to respond to the same global trends,” warned Hanson, “local models become less responsive to local characteristics. One great thing about higher education is its diversity.”

Another type of uniformity occurs, according to IIENetworker author George Kacenga, as the demands of a globalized market economy compel institutions to tie education outcomes exclusively to employment. Author Jason Scorza argues that this “economic model” of global learning, when taken to its extreme, can come at the expense of a liberal arts, or “civic model,” of education. It can also, as Hanson suggested, over-prioritize English language and a narrowing technological skillset.

The other two potential dangers had to do with the pervading influence of the global market on campus internationalization, particularly student recruitment and partnerships. IIENetworker author Jenny Lee argues that students are, more than ever before, being perceived as a major export. “For many institutions, the recruitment of full-paying international students as ‘cash cows’ is being targeted as a quick way to generate much-needed revenue,” writes Lee.

In addition to seeing internationalization as a means to increase resources, institutions also see it as a means to gain world-class status, as discussed by Elspeth Jones and Hans de Wit in their article. Hanson pointed out that this view is encouraged in part by international ranking systems. Rather than providing ladders of opportunity for all, these objectives tend to create a winner-take-all situation, which Lee argues reinforces global patterns of inequality, “with developing countries continually striving but rarely truly competing with the West.”

Then how might globalization be good for international education?

Many attendees of the round table and contributors to the magazine argue that the right approaches can mitigate these dangers and that good strategies will allow campuses to benefit from, and even drive, forces of globalization. For example IIENetworker author Xiangming Chen argues that, rather than homogenizing international education, globalization actually enables universities to generate new learning opportunities by capitalizing on the many knowledge assets of distinct localities abroad. He illustrates this “translocal” model by sharing a recent Urban and Global Studies program at Trinity College, which compared manufacturing industries in Shanghai, China, and East Hartford, CT.

This issue shares many other strategies and best practices for seizing the forces of globalization. Authors also propose helpful ways of perceiving globalization and international education, achieving one of Peck and Hanson’s primary goals in initiating this conversation one year ago, namely to bridge the gap between theory and practice and emerge with a common language for engaging with globalization.

Together, the articles and roundtable discussions have accomplished even more. They succeeded in redirecting our focus away from internationalization driven solely by economics or brand and toward a more integrated internationalization focused on benefiting students within the wider university community. The emerging consensus seems to be that, by doing so, we’ve only just begun to discover the potential good globalization can be for international education.