Musings on Identity and the Internationalization of Higher Education Institutions - Blueboard by Alma Maria O Salvador

February 04, 2020

Internationalization “at the national, sector, and institutional levels is defined as the process of integrating an international, intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions or delivery of postsecondary education” (Knight, J. 2015).   
 
As the wave of internationalization sets its course and positions HEIs in the developing world, we pose questions that are felt but not directly answered:  Does internationalization collide against the identity and mission of particularly, higher education institutions (HEIs) in the global south?  Do the forces of internationalization, enveloped by the rules and the norms that govern HEIs in the global north---actors that currently lead the discourse and practices on global rankings, diminish, alter or hybridize the  identities of HEIs in the global south? How do HEIs respond?
 
HEIs with religious affiliation may present an additional concern: Does internationalization infringe upon the objectives of teaching as mission and as formation? Educators from HEIs in the global south have argued that formation programs are not one of those that are counted in the global rankings, but instead, metrics based on the number of inbound and outbound students, faculty mobility, number of  visiting professors, faculty-to- student ratio, amount of external grants and the number of research collaborations, etc.  are surveyed to quantify and measure internationalization.  
 
To answer the question of how internationalization impacts on the HEI’s identity is not an easy task. Defined as one’s conception of the self, identity is concurrently formed by how others perceive the self. The notion of multiple identities, in which each role attaches differing expectations is illustrated in the role of a professor, who is at the same time a parent at home and a volunteer in his/ her community.  One’s identity, is thus constructed and shaped by context. While the context dictates, the actor plays a primary role in configuring and re-configuring one’s identity (Wendt, A. 1992).
 
Multiple layers of self-identification, the global, national, and organizational/ university levels on which the HEI is anchored interact with each other.  At the global level, identity, anchored on one’s global position shapes the HEI’s  practice of internationalization, and is recursively shaped by it.  Accordingly, a disparity in the  motivations to internationalize between the  global north and global south HEIs exists, where HEIs in global north pursue internationalization to advance global citizenship education. They differ from the motivations of  HEIs in the south, which internationalize, by and large in order to promote mobility (Morosini, M. C., et al, 2017).
 
Global south countries also assume the  role and identity as ‘senders’ of outbound students to mainly English speaking and ‘branded’ HEIs of the global north, namely, the US, UK and Australia. This characteristic  flows of international students from south to north among global south HEIs is reinforced in  ASEAN countries where intra-regional student mobility remains low (UNESCO 2013). In further illustrating  the influence of internationalization on identity, the cases of Malaysia and Singapore, on the one hand, are illustrative of their role transitions in international student mobility from senders to receivers or ‘exporters’ of higher education in Asia (Malaysia) and Australia, Europe and the US (Singapore) (UNESCO, 2013).  
 
The impact of internationalization on  identity is further shaped by the  HEI’s location in the hierarchy of HEIs at the national realm. Ranked and seeded by global rankings, ‘first tier’ HEIs (in the north), refer to research-based universities. They are  differentiated from ‘second tier’ counterparts in terms of their orientation to applied learning, reputational and academic ranking, curriculum,  prestige and selectivity (De Wit, H. et al, 2015).  However, these definitions do not necessarily resonate in the first tier universities of the global south,  some of which are  relatively smaller when measured in terms of population and size of  program offerings. 
 
As a consequence of globalization, first tier universities in the global south experience tensions caused in balancing the benefits and costs of internationalizing higher education.  At the national level, regulatory regimes  on internationalization are viewed to have institutionalized certain elements of  managerialism (Holmes, C. and Lindsay, D., 2018):  standardization and  increased roles of  business and technology in learning have evolved as the pre- requisites for international and regional assessments and accreditation. Emergent transnational higher education (TNE), ushering the beginnings of branch and international branch campuses, is perceived to have marketized higher education or the competition by HEIs for an international student market share (UNESCO, 2013).
 
How have specific HEIs in the Philippines responded?  A type of response at the organizational/ university level is based on the assertion of  ‘traditional identity’. For HEIs with religious affiliations, this may include the following responses: (i) reflexive measures that seek to assess levels of mission and/or religious tradition-based  identification as reflected in the institution’s vision, governance, instruction, assessment, research and service; (ii) a related response, is anchored on the deepening of conversations between lay leaders and networked religious order-based organizations on topics centered on the notion of  ‘global identifiers’ and how these translate to ‘institutional identity’ (ICAJE, 2019);  (iii)  identity assertion is also demonstrated in the institution of a ‘core’ curriculum anchored on social formation and mission and reflective of a specific educational philosophy; and (iv) integration of social formation in a curricular framework that includes the core, major and co-curricular courses.   
 
These meaningful and continuing exercises on self assertions are designed to address the homogenizing impact of educational globalization on identity.

Alma Maria Salvador, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Political Science in Ateneo de Manila University. This piece is inspired by an article written by one of the university’s educational leaders  as a framed response to global rankings in 2006.