The Historiography of the International Student Policy Trajectory

By Kumar, Margaret | Journal of Australian Studies, January 2005 | Go to article overview

The Historiography of the International Student Policy Trajectory


Kumar, Margaret, Journal of Australian Studies


Through Gayatri Spivak's (1) strategy of historiography and the notion of 'reading against the grain' this article provides, by way of the formulation of a model of the international student policy trajectory, a descriptive and interpretive discourse analysis of Australian policy concerning international students. The objective is, to borrow from Spivak, to attempt to retrieve the subject 'in an attempt to undo a massive historiographic metalepsis'. (2) In this way, this argument 'situates' the effect of the subject so that any discourse that takes place does so as a result of that subject. The subject here is the international student and the discourse analysis considers the norm for official historiography from the point of view of such a student.

The central problem to be addressed in this article is how international students are represented in policy. Related to this is the problem that in the making of policy only certain voices are heard. In connection to these, the argument will be made that there is a practice of ambivalence in the historiography of the international student policy trajectory, which is evident at several levels. It initially became apparent through Australia's moves toward nation-building, then through the strategies of marketing, and later through the issues relating to economic rationalism. The discourse surrounding international student policy has increased in complexity from one of being a drive to export education and recruit students, to one that encompasses a drive by the Australian nation for international education. Thus, the issue of education for international students has become complicated by concerns such as broad economic strategies, aid, trade and internationalisation. These have all led to a commodification of the education of international students. The formulation of policy has various components, each of which impacts on the others. In this against-the-grain reading, it is demonstrated how education for international students is marginalised by the drive for the growth of Australia's economy. The economy is shown to have permeated and influenced Australia's education system, subsequently leading to an ambivalence toward the presence of international students in Australia and the issue of international education in general. This article will argue that the historiography of the policy for international students shows that it was formulated within conflicting discourses that lead to the construction of ambivalence.

Situating historiography

Spivak's (3) and Edward Said's (4) discussions of historiography are useful in contextualising international student policy. Spivak (5) likens historiography to a strategy, an art of planning to reach a specified goal. Similarly, Said (6) discusses the use of 'historical-cultural blocks' as part of a historiographical analysis that refers to systems and currents of thought through which a nation establishes itself in a particular period of history. These are connected in complex ways to various activities, which subsequently formulate the ideas and values that are relayed to present the worldviews of a society, community or group.

Spivak (7) focuses on the use of strategy by saying that 'it can also be unwitting', hence there are bound to be discrepancies in its implementation. These occur between the objective formulation, its development and its comprehension. Spivak maintains that no one strategy can be assumed to be totally appropriate to a system. She argues that planners of a strategy must recognise that any plan may not progress according to the initial objective. (8)

Similarly, Said (9) foregrounds the notion of elaboration in historiographical analysis, which he argues is an inherent part of the construction of any new system. Elaboration has two contradictory but complementary issues. The first is that to refine, or work out, some prior or more powerful idea is to perpetuate a worldview. …

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