Internationalisation and Decolonisation: Can Two Work Together Unless They Agree

A picture divided diagonally in half with a tear. The top half of the picture is a painting of classical roman columns and statues and the bottom half of the picture is an abstract painting with a collage of colours including blues, reds, yellows, whites and blacks
Image Credit: Created by Joe Arton from two paintings; Roman Ruins and figures – statue of Marcus Aurelius by Paolo Panini Giovanni (University of Edinburgh Collections) and Red, Blue and White Abstract Painting by Robert Keane on Unsplash.

In this post, Dr Davies Banda, Director of Learning and Teaching in Moray House School of Education and Sport asks: how do we reconcile the themes of decolonisation and internationalisation when the neoliberal ideals that fuel the internationalisation agenda in higher education prioritise hegemonic Western values? This is the fifth post of the Learning & Teaching Enhancement theme: “Focus on the internationalisation of teaching and learning“.


This contribution follows recent discussion at College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS) Undergraduate Education Committee. Two key themes – internationalisation and decolonisation formed part of the key items for discussion.  Following a presentation on internationalisation wherein CAHSS’ Dean of Internationalisation shared the College’s Global Strategy with the Directors of Teaching (UG/PG), the next agenda item focused on decolonising the curriculum. With regards to the latter, committee members’ shared examples of local responses, practices or how initiatives at school level were being undertaken. The current practices across different schools highlighted the need for a thoroughly coordinated and connected approach concerning clarity in conceptualisation, roles and responsibilities.

Today, both themes, internationalisation and decolonisation, are high on the agenda of many universities, including Edinburgh. In relation to the former, the university boasts of a diverse population of staff and students from different parts of a globalised world. In relation to the latter, the role played by the British colony in the geographical locations where our diverse students and staff have migrated from or consider their home have implications of hegemonic relations and associated epistemic injustices that need to be considered.

Therefore, we are faced with ethical issues pertaining to social responsibility – How do we view ourselves as agents of change within a global world? What is our role in (re)shaping the dominant cultures in knowledge construction? Do we have mechanisms, systems or structures to enable alternative voices (re)surface through our curriculum reforms? These are just but a few questions to consider at a micro and macro level.

Caution is therefore needed in terms of how subgroup committee business tackles the two themes together, considering that, on the one hand, decolonising focuses on redressing recolonization. On the other hand, neoliberal ideals continue to fuel the internationalisation agenda in higher education. This comes with hegemonic prioritisation of Western values that some have suggested has undertones of recolonization. It is indeed with that awareness of internationalisation’s association with neoliberal logic of capital that efforts to bring the two together demands clarity in motives and devising of practical ways to support a change of cultural practices.

While acknowledging the contestations between internationalisation and decolonisation of university learning and teaching, this contribution attempts to demonstrate how Moray House School of Education and Sport’s new governance structure seems fit-for-purpose to contribute to these separate but related agendas.

We have within our new governance structure a Director of Internationalisation, demonstrating a commitment to internationalisation. Such a role in higher education usually focuses on external recruitment markets and fostering staff and student mobility. However, the integration of key stakeholders, consisting of Directors of Learning and Teaching (L&T), Internationalisation and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), within the school executive committee, provides opportunities for developing concerted efforts in relation to agenda setting, decision-making and supporting implementation at school level. This ensures bi-directional input in cultivation of shared values for shaping and influencing learning and teaching both at home and abroad for our students.

As Director of L&T, together with the Director of Internationalisation, we have committee membership of an EDI sub-committee focusing on decolonising the curriculum. Recent activities have involved mapping ways in which we can develop criteria for ensuring new ways of collaborations between course/programme proposers and L&T reviewers of such applications. We are still grappling with effective measures to decolonise the curriculum. At school level, consultations involve a diverse range of stakeholders. We are slowly starting to instil a mindset required of all course and programme developers to ensure that this agenda is embedded at the onset of conceptualising ideas for a new programme, course or revalidation of existing programmes.

Despite the focus on decolonising the curriculum during the two previous EDI meetings, attempts to ensure students develop awareness and open themselves to other alternative knowledges, spills into what may well be considered aspects of internationalisation at home. Further local initiatives have consisted of two workshops facilitated by Institute of Academic Development colleagues focusing on students as co-creators. While such a workshop was planned with the aim to develop practices among academic staff that are likely to support an ‘internationalising at home’ agenda and not the decolonising agenda per se, dialogic processes involving students are key to both agendas.

Concerted efforts to change our practices are vital. This requires acknowledging current practices and attitudes that are likely to be impediments to the aspirations in our strategic plans. Are issues of decoloniality or epistemic injustices embraced collectively as part of our espoused social justice values? Our actions going forward will demand authentic processes to help us overcome superficial discussions of decolonisation beyond mere insertions of Global South items within reading lists.


Photo of the authorDavies Banda

Dr Davies Banda is Director of Learning and Teaching in Moray House School of Education and Sport. His research area covers public policy, sport policy, corporate social responsibility through sport, and international development. He works with governments, international governing bodies of sport and community based organisations advising committees/ practical involvement in the design and implementation of multisectoral social interventions and educational programming. His passion for learning and teaching focuses on collaborative partnerships in Higher Education – Global South and Global North in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals, and before, the MDGs.

Twitter – @DaviesBanda

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