Social responsibility and civil engagement are rising on the checklist of what an international education should include. At the recent annual conference of the Association of International Education Administrators, delegates and thought leaders explored how to incorporate social responsibility into the curriculum and underlined the need to create “global citizens”.
Hans de Wit, newly appointed director of Boston College’s Centre for International Higher Education, argued for a revised definition of internationalisation of higher education, one that is more inclusive and less focussed on economic rationales.
“Internationalisation is not a goal in itself but a means to enhance quality across the institution”
“Internationalisation is not a goal in itself but a means to enhance quality across the institution,” he said, adding that global citizenship can be taught to all students, not just the mobile elite.
Social responsibility and civic engagement are keys elements to the global citizenship of de Wit’s revised definition, as well as a professional dimension that prepares students for employability in a global context.
According to Darla Deardorff, executive director of AIEA, including global social responsibility into an international curriculum should be an imperative for universities.
“All of this is about the so-what to international education? Why are we engaged?,” she said, speaking with The PIE News. “Yes one of the things could be about employability, but the much bigger picture is truly building a better world and what is our social responsibility toward building that better world.”
It’s also a way to place familiar topics into a global context, she argued.
“We can find evidence of these global issues in our communities because we’re so interconnected,” she said. “That makes it very real to our students, it’s not just something out there or over there.”
Forging partnerships with international organisations, like Doctors Without Borders, is essential to engage students globally, said Deardorff.
The event’s keynote speaker, Richard Heinzl, spoke of his own personal experience of founding the first North American chapter of Doctors Without Borders.
“If you travel you’re going to get a certain kind of education and that’s not going to be a full education, if you’re in a classroom alone, that’s not going to be a full education, but somehow in my life, combining the two led to something that was greater than the sum of the parts,” he said after his address.
“I learned so much, not just from my highly educated towering professors but I learned so much from some kid in a refugee camp or some old man who is a farmer or some mum who’s just about to give birth.
“These people taught me more stuff than you can learn anywhere else. So if you can put the two together it’s greater than ever.”
“If the partner university helps you find opportunities the impact is much bigger”
Institutions are also finding that volunteering and civic engagement connect students to local communities, giving them a deeper understanding of their new surroundings.
David di Maria, associate provost for international services at Montana State University said, “having students work with organisations in the community allows them to truly understand the social fabric of the United States or at least our state.”
He said civic engagement also gives local citizens an opportunity to interact with the international students.
“It’s more about integration in the sense of feeling like you belong to a community and that’s what the retention literature would attest to– early on you feel a belonging and you’re more likely to persist as opposed to going elsewhere.”
De Wit added that service learning should be included in overseas partnerships. “If the partner university helps you find opportunities the impact is much bigger,” he told The PIE News.
“What we see is many universities in Europe and in the United States send students to South Africa, for example and they don’t go via the local university but they make separate arrangements and with that they aren’t very well prepared, they don’t get any background of the context and also they’re not working with local students.”