Across Borders and States:
Globalising Education

 

Peter Kell

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The Internationalisation of education has become one of the key themes of educational policy and planning in the 1990s. In an era typified by the globalisation of technology, communications, and the integration of wordwide capital and labour markets, educators are being forced to respond to a new set of challenges. Just as other sectors of the economy have been required to restructure for the combined effects of international competition, deregulation and export markets, universities, TAFE and in some cases schools, are being confronted by the issue of internationalisation.

The need to sell education overseas is increasingly being interpreted as a lifeline for higher education and vocational training providers squeezed by shrinking government education budgets. Education and training providers in Australia are seeking to position themselves in the emergent "markets" associated with Asia and the Pacific Rim. This export driven approach to education and training is optimistically viewed as a way of creating new relationships with neigbouring countries.

However, in most cases the internationalisation of education is seen in its narrowest sense as merely the recruitment of overseas students to do courses in Australia. In blunt terms this translates to "bums" on seats and dollars throught the cash register for the providers. While a great deal of energy and goodwill is generally being directed towards the internationalisation of education in universities and TAFE, there has been little analysis or critical discussion of the types of relationships that emerge from international partnerships or questioning about the appropriateness of "trading" models for the development of international educational partnerships.

In Australia the challenge for change in internationalisation has been interpreted as raising the number of fee paying overseas students in Australian universities and TAFEs. In these arrangements overseas students would be included in mainstream academic programs in Australian universities for the entire period of their studies. The attraction for the providers from these arrangements is the full fee paying status of the students. There have been few attempts to integrate courses with Asian universities or provide students with short stay programs like the exchanges that typify such European programs as the Erasmus scheme, under which students can spend a semester in another European university.

The model of internationalism which is current in Australia is not , in fact, very different from that which typified the earliest post-war Australian and British Commonwealth assistance schemes such as the Colombo Plan. The focus was then on the development of individual students in a host country. Under such schemes, sponsored students spent a number of years completing a course in a donor country's university. Sometimes this pattern worked but in many cases it did not. For some students productive relationships were established with the host institutions and countries. For others the experience was lonely and isolating.

While the Colombo plan model represented fledgling attempts by Australia to interact with its Asian neighbours, the post colonial model was limited and in some ways counterproductive in that it simply delayed the development of the educational infrastructure in participating countries. The programs also tended to reflect what foreigners in host or donor countries thought developing nations needed. This model was paternalistic and perpetuated the legacies of colonial dependency in new and enduring forms. It combined economic and cultural imperialism and reaffirmed links between former colonies and their metropolitan "masters" that may have been threatened by independence.

This model also delayed an awareness in the donor countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom that the world was changing and that previously "underdeveloped" countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Korea were assuming economic superpower status. It is a model which has also contextualised internationalism as a one-way relationship. The model situated overseas students in the host/donor countries but did not conceptualise a role for placing host/donor country students in exchange&emdash;such countries were not seen to be able to contribute much to Australian students and academics. As a result even now few students from Australia or New Zealand study in neighbouring Asian countries, despite generous schemes in countries such as Japan, which pay fees and living allowances.

In recent years the post war model has been modified with many providers operating off shore campuses and becoming more aware of the need to offer programs and courses which are appropriate to the localised needs. However the relationship is clearly dominated by the providers and does not address system wide issues associated with reform and renewal of national and regional structures.

In Europe, however, several new models of international collaboration are emerging which incorporate global, national and regional perspectives and institutions. Here the move towards internationalisation has been accelerated by changing international political developments. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the satellite states has prompted significant change in the relationship between Eastern Europe and Western Europe. Now through the European Union, significant transnational programs have been developed to reform the education and training infrastructure in Eastern Europe. The reforms are designed to integrate training and education systems into the structure of the global economy.

The urgency of the need for training in the former Republic of the USSR and the Eastern European union is seen as critically important in stabilising the economies of these nations and also assisting the evolution from agrarian economies to high value industrial economies. In some countries such as Bulgaria there is a dual problem of unemployment running at 16% and a high number of people in agricultural and manufacturing occupations (70%). In the context of the evolution from command economies to capitalist economies the education and training system is of critical importance in providing the foundations for the transfer to the services based economy which characterises the high value export oriented western European systems.

Since 1995 the European Union has established the European Training Foundation which administers two programs called Phare and Tacis which fund the linkage between educational providers and organisations from European Union member states with partner states in the former Soviet bloc. The Phare program includes the Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Albania, The Tacis program includes Russian Federated States, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldovia, Georgia, Armenia, Mongolia, Uzbekestan, Turkmenistan and Azerbajan. Both programs are involved in strategies for co-operation and analysis in the field of vocational education. The activities include the development of national observatories to collect system wide data for needs analysis. Other activities include in-depth studies, management training, staff development and assistance generally in renewal and reform of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system in partner states.

The European Training Foundation (ETF) located in Turin, Italy funds educational providers in the EU to deliver the various programs in consultation with member states. A good example is the program in industrial relations conducted across the Phare states initiated by The Institute Of Applied Social Science (Voor Toepaste Sociale Wetenschappen) at the Catholic University of Nijmegen. In response to the need to develop an awareness of industrial relations practices appropriate to the emerging democratic structures in the workplace, the Institute Of Applied Social Science conducted a range of activities with other universities. These included a series of courses for managers and VET teachers; a conference on industrial relations in the newly privatised enterprises; and the development of text books for tertiary courses. These developments were conducted by a consortium of providers from Bielefeld, in Germany; Nijmegen in the Netherlands; and Warwick University, in the United Kingdom and have been funded by the European Union.

The European Training Foundation (ETF) combines the supranational structure of the EU with educational institutions in a network of programs to meet national reform programs in the partner states. Regional consortiums of educational and training providers are also characteristic of the newly emerging international developments in education and training.

In the Barents region in Northern Europe on the Arctic Circle several Health Education Institutes from Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia are also developing joint programs linking several providers. The educational links are enhanced by the formation of organisational links at local government levels organised by the Barents Euro Arctic Region Council. In this international consortium collaborations are able to be established across a range of networks in a variety of industrial, social, academic and political settings.

One notable liaison involves the Boden University Of Health Sciences in the Northern Swedish province of Norrbotten and the Town of Apatite in Northern Russia which is approximately 200 kilometres from Murmansk on the Karal Peninsula. The Boden University of Health Sciences is a small university with 800 students in Nursing, Aged Care, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy. Since 1989 the university has capitalised on a sister city relationship to establish an international program of training and development for staff and managers in institutions caring for state wards and aged people.

Historically institutional care in Russia has been greatly neglected, with poor conditions, a lack of staff training, and an overall lack of funding. Progress has not been helped by the chaotic condition of state structures where teachers and carers have not been paid since April 1996. Symptomatic of the oppressive nature of the former Soviet society, these institutions have operated on rigid hierachical structures with few individualised programs for residents and little interaction between staff and residents. Change is now occurring as a a result of on site training in Russia and Sweden, as well as a series of student and teacher exchanges. The Swedish involvement is based on a desire to provide the training to underpin the normalisation and deinstitutionalisation of services in Apatite.

The program combines staff training and professional development with structural and systemic renewal but is designed so that the change is initiated by Russian people themselves. In post communist Russia change is difficult and slow in a public sector starved of resources and subject to political instability. Successful change requires the commitment of Russian people rather than direction by outsiders. In order for this to happen there is a strong emphasis on critical reflection so that Russian participants can rationalise and manage change within a cultural context of Russian society.

Both Russians and Swedes are developing a long term view of their collaboration based on a hope and recognition that prosperity and stability will result from stronger regional collaborations. The perceived benefits of such associations are developed within the context of a much broader long term view than that involved in the simple extraction of fees from students as proposed by many advocates of the internationalisation of education in Australia.

While there is always a danger of a neo-colonial relationship developing from such alliances, these are new models of international co-operation in education and training which reposition education and training in an international cluster of nations, regions, institutions and governments in new partnerships. These "Supra" national developments in Europe suggest that the individualised models of internationalising education which typify the engagement with internationalism from Australia are outdated.

What are some of the lessons which Australia can learn from these European initiatives in international education? Firstly, the Colombo plan model is now dead! It is not about selling off courses to individuals. The new models of international co-operation require long term joint and collaborative efforts as equals which encompasses a broad view of teaching, research and community service. Australian educational institutions will need to consider linkages which embrace the regional, national and individual needs of Asia communities as partners in programs of mutual benefit which go far beyond simply selling courses.

It means establishing long term linkages in which Australian students and teachers can learn about Asian communities and connect with developments in those communities. This means that Australians will have to think about placing students and teachers in Asian Universities; develop joint facilities in Australia and Asia; and hire Asian staff to work in Australian and Asian locations. It also means educational organisations will have to develop networks and links which span traditional disciplines; work with a range of industries and corporations; and integrate with other multinational organisations such as APEC and ASEAN.

Australian educational planners are obsessed with a lop-sided view of important 'target' countries but they have poor notions of regional structures. Could the same structures that typify the Barents region be developed by providers in Asia and the Pacific? What are the sorts of consortiums of educational providers that Australian organisations could team up with ?

These are critical questions that Australian educational planners need to connect with if Australia is to be included in the range of opportunities that emerge from the internationalisation of education.

Dr Peter Kell is a lecturer in education and training policy in the Institute Of Interdisciplinary Studies, James Cook University Of North Queensland.

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