Narrative in political debates and the media recently has positioned internationalisation and globalisation as being a ‘negative’ thing, something that intellectual elites support to the detriment of the ‘people’. Being a citizen of the world has been portrayed as being a citizen of nowhere while ‘patriotism’ and ‘people’ feature increasingly as keywords in the lingo of election campaigns both in Europe and the USA. UK universities have fought back with strong messages on why they are international. The #Weareinternational campaign is a good example of that.
Internationalisation in higher education is driven by the increasingly diverse student populations, an increasingly diverse higher education provision with UK organisations exporting programmes and working with international partner organisations both in education and research. According to the Higher Education Academy, we are experiencing increasingly high expectations from students and employers for higher education providers to equip students with the skills to succeed in a global community.
In our sector of healthcare higher education, the paradigm of internationalisation appears to be twofold. On the one hand we operate in an international environment of education and research, while on the other we collaborate with our practice partners in one of the most international and diverse sectors of our community and that is healthcare.
Bringing this back to the work of the Council, it is clear that our focus should be on addressing both the challenges that Brexit poses in terms of the European context while we seek to strengthen both European and international links and continue to remind ourselves why the internationalisation of higher education is important.
Populism is repositioning nationalism as the norm in an era where markets, relationships, collaboration and communities are global. This is the time, more than ever, to remind ourselves that nationality, or nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts of a particular kind and era.
As Benedict Anderson rightly put it in his Imagined Communities:
‘Unlike most other isms, nationalism has never produced its own grand thinkers: no Hobbeses, Tocquevilles, Marxes, or Webers. This ’emptiness’ easily gives rise, among cosmopolitan and polylingual intellectuals, to a certain condescension’.
As a result, he proposed that the nation was an ‘imagined community’. It is imagined because its members in even the smallest of nations will never know each other, meet or interact but in their minds each lives the image of their communion. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann argued that it is all about social constructivism where human development is socially situated and knowledge is constructed through interaction with others.
So in the same way politicians are trying to convince us that we all belong to the same nation and therefore should fight against internationalisation, we can argue that the territorial space is a thing of the 19th century and the social spaces particularly with new technologies and increased mobility have moved us to a completely different notion of belonging. And both national and international identities are imagined and constructed. No much space for ‘natural’ here I am afraid.
However, although we will want to make the point that going international adds value to our knowledge, interaction and humanity, it can be problematic if we do not position it in the context of local reality. The focus of us all should be both global and local and universities should be able to respond to the needs both of their international and local communities. After all, they are both ‘imagined’ and need equal treatment and respect.