Different perspectives on internationalisation in an internationalised university

Image credit: Steve Johnson, Unsplash CC0

Welcome to Teaching Matters’ Learning and Teaching Enhancement Theme: “Focus on the internationalisation of teaching and learning”. The theme will run from March through April with one blog post per week. 

We are delighted to introduce Dr Omolabake (Labake) Fakunle, Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and Coordinator of the MSc Education General Pathway at the Moray House School of Education as the series’ co-editor and curator. In this introductory post, Omolabake draws from her research on the intersection of internationalisation, inclusivity and education policy to conceptually situate internationalisation and provide an overview of the contributions to come.

In over three decades, the internationalisation of higher education has remained a key institutional, national, and international agenda. This is evident in the interest of educational stakeholders and policy makers in different aspects of internationalisation, including staff and student mobility, cross-border delivery of teaching and international research collaborations and partnerships. The globally recognised status of the University of Edinburgh as an internationalised university (University of Edinburgh Strategy 2030) is reflected in the diversity of students’ nationalities, which is the most visible representation of internationalisation (Fakunle, 2020). In the 2019/20 academic year this translates to 22670 UK students, 16375 non-EU students and 5380 EU students. However, the abundance of data on student mobility in and through higher education (whether within a country or from outside) does not provide qualitative insights on the perspectives of the students and the staff who are studying and working in an internationalised university (deWit, 2020).

Drawing on my research that examines the intersection of the internationalisation of higher education, inclusivity and education policy, I am interested in how micro-level (individual) agentic participation in internationalised educational activities are reflected in macro-level (structural/organisational) discourses on internationalisation. In line with this holistic approach, in this introductory post, I define internationalisation as the participation of an individual, institution or nation in an internationalised academic or education-related undertaking within or across national borders. An education-related undertaking can relate to learning, teaching, research or service. This definition sets the scene for the approach in this Teaching Matters series on internationalisation that is seeking to capture the voices of students and staff as active stakeholders who are studying or working in Edinburgh.

Over the next ten weeks, the invited contributors including international and local students, and academic and non-academic staff will be sharing their perspectives on what internationalisation means to them. Their posts will be speaking to the main themes in internationalisation discourses such as ‘internationalising the curriculum’, ‘internationalisation at home’, ‘outward and inward student mobility’, and ‘transnational higher education’. For example, Jane Wu and Cam Starbuck are MSc Education international and local students respectively and they are studying online at the same institution during a pandemic. But their reflections illustrate different constructions of a lived experience, albeit in relation to the same social environmental conditions. Cam reflects on his ‘internationalisation at home’ experience ‘when the world came to him’. Relatedly, Jane talks about the value of her international study experience. At the same time, she talks about how she has been using coping mechanisms to deal with the pressure of studying online as an international student. Crucially, the students’ accounts reveal the voices behind the mobility data.

Some posts explore staff experiences of internationalisation at Edinburgh. These posts showcase the international reach of Edinburgh within and beyond national borders (transnational higher education). From a teaching perspective, these posts explore normative aspects of internationalisation that merit further dialogue. For example, Jingyi Li, stresses the need to ‘unpack diversity in Postgraduate Taught Programmes’. Michael Daw shares similar insights from his experience as a transnational academic and lecturer on a joint programme run between Biomedical Sciences and Zhejiang University based in Haining, China. These blogs highlight how the commitment of various stakeholders is required to realise the transformative potential of internationalisation.

Invariably, the macro-level strategic approach to internationalisation matters. This makes important the contribution to the blog series from a leadership perspective. Davies Banda talks about the strategic initiatives being undertaken at the College level to link internationalisation and decolonising the curriculum. His post offers insight into the ethical dimension of internationalisation. This vastly differs from the dominant economic rationality that underpins much of the strategic approach towards internationalisation, which has been widely criticised. Davies’ post points to a timely reimagining of two complex and critical agendas.

In this introductory post, I have provided a snapshot of some of the blog posts that we will be introducing in the upcoming weeks. This edited series on internationalisation offers a rich glimpse into different individual stakeholder perspectives. I hope the blogs inspire us to pause and to reflect on what exactly does internationalisation mean? Over the next few weeks, the blogs will encourage us ruminate on our shared humanity and challenge us to reimagine an inclusive approach in capturing the meaning of internationalisation, beyond the data.


de Wit, H (2020) Internationalisation of higher education: The need for a more ethical and qualitative approach. Journal of International Students 10(1): i–iv.

Fakunle, O. (2020) Developing a framework for international students’ rationales for studying abroad, beyond economic factors. Policy Futures in Education https://doi.org/10.1177/1478210320965066

The University of Edinburgh (u.d) Strategy 2030 https://www.ed.ac.uk/files/atoms/files/strategy-2030.pdf

photograph of the authorOmolabake (Labake) Fakunle

Dr Omolabake (Labake) Fakunle is a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh (UoE) and Coordinator of the MSc Education General Pathway, Moray House School of Education. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Labake leads an EDI subgroup at the School level and is a Steering Group Member for the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) Project on Decoloniality (2021-2024). Her award-winning research explores the intersection of internationalisation, inclusivity, employability and education policy. Labake has led and worked with multi-disciplinary teams on national and multi-national research projects in higher education.
Email: omolabake.fakunle@ed.ac.uk
Twitter @LabakeFakunle

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