Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Internationalization in Canadian Higher Education: A Case Study of the Gap between Official Discourses and On-the-Ground Realities

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Internationalization in Canadian Higher Education: A Case Study of the Gap between Official Discourses and On-the-Ground Realities

Article excerpt


Internationalization is a key feature of higher education in the early 21st century, and Canadian universities are no exception to this global trend. Over the past 15 years or so, international initiatives related to student and faculty mobility, international research partnerships, and the internationalization of curricula have been taken up across Canadian postsecondary institutions. Indeed, the majority of Canadian universities and colleges view internationalization as a high priority; as a result, they now include internationalization as a key goal in their institutional strategic plans and internationalization among their top five priorities (AUCC, 2014).

Jane Knight, whose definition of internationalization is most quoted in the related literature, notes that internationalization occurs at both the institutional and the national/ sector level, and that while the national/sector level has had an important influence on the international dimension of postsecondary education, "it is usually at the individual, institutional level that the real processes of internationalization is [sic] taking place" (Knight, 2004, pp. 6-7). Knight's proposition is to use both a bottom-up (institutional) approach and a top-down (national/sector) approach to understand the dynamic relationship between what is happening at the two levels. In this article, I focus primarily on the bottom-up approach in order to provide a more nuanced and finely grained understanding of what internationalization actually looks like in practice. Specifically, this is a case study about Johnstone University's initiative to internationalize, known as North Goes South (NGS)1, a north-south partnership that includes international research collaboration, student and faculty mobility, and international service learning (ISL).

The problem that I set out to understand was how Canadian university students, faculty members, and Tanzanian community members involved in NGS view the impact of the initiative. The study draws on qualitative methodology, given my interest in the research participants' perceptions of their roles in the initiative and their understandings of the overall benefits and challenges of NGS. I begin with a brief review of the literature on internationalization and higher education in Canada, with a focus on the literature most relevant to my study. I provide my rationale for using a case-study methodology to understand internationalization, and the background and context of the case I am studying. I then review the results of my study to show the complex and contradictory ways that internationalization was played out in one higher education setting, pointing to the gap between official internationalization discourses and on-the-ground realities.

Literature Review

As internationalization has become an increasingly significant policy in Canadian higher education institutions (HEIs), scholarly literature in the field has emerged, albeit slowly. Most authors have focused on specific approaches or strategies commonly associated with internationalization in Canadian higher education. A review of publications over the past five years reveals an emphasis on the following themes: internationalization of the curriculum (e.g., Beck, 2009; Garson, 2013; Hanson 2010; Odgers & Giroux, 2009); the experiences of international students (e.g., Duclos, 2011; Karram, 2013; Kenyon, Frohard-Dourlent, & Roth, 2012); student and faculty mobility (e.g., Knight & Madden, 2010; Miller & Blachford, 2012); and north-south partnerships (e.g., Larkin, 2012; Leng & Pan, 2013). The last topic has been critically analyzed in great detail in two recent doctoral theses (Jorgenson, 2014; Larkin, 2013).

In addition, there is a small but growing body of research from Canadian scholars on study abroad and ISL, which are examples of specific internationalization strategies (Jorgenson, 2010; Larsen, 2014; Larsen & Gough, 2013; MacDonald, 2014; Pluim & Jorgenson, 2012; Sharpe & Dear, 2013; Taraban, Trilokekar, & Fynbo, 2009). …

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