Critiques of International Education

This week I’ve been reading a series of critiques in the area of international education, and I’d like to take some time to review some of the better articles in this area. Susan Gillespie’s article, “The Practice of International Education in the Context of Globalization” A Critique” was published in 2002 by the Journal of Studies in International Education. Despite the passage of more than a decade, many of the points that Gillespie makes are worth considering in the current context. Her work begins echoing a point that Katz’s recent piece made, which was that the United States turned inward after the 9/11 attacks, which the was the opposite response to what happened after WWII and the start of the Cold War. Reading the article, one is reminded how much the United States moved to disengage from the world after 9/11, even as the nation fought two wars. Diane Feinstein proposed a moratorium on student visas, and only relented when reminded of the economic impact. Parents were afraid to allow their students to study abroad. But the focus of Gillespie’s critique was not this political and social trend.

Instead, Gillespie argued that the very idea of international work was frequently flawed. Gillespie was clearly a critic of economic globalization and the neoliberal model. She thus critiqued programs that were designed for financial goals, which were inspiring universities at the time to open branch campuses overseas. She also argued that International/Global Studies programs often lacked a certain coherence, and tended to focus on acquiring a certain amount of language skills, with an arbitrary number of credits in internationally focused courses. The fundamental issue was that these programs failed to engage the true moral and philosophical problems of our world, in particular the inequality that economic globalization created. For this reason, she disliked study abroad programs in which students studied with other American or European students, or took classes with American professors, in what she called “island programs.” Fundamentally, she argued these programs isolated students, and reflected the inequality of exchange programs, in which there was not equity in the exchange that took place. Instead, she held up as a model a program at Bard College that involved an equal exchange of faculty and students amongst institutions.

Gillespie’s argument foreshadowed that of Katz, in that she is ultimately arguing for a liberal arts education. In her case, this curriculum would focus on challenging the inequalities of economic globalization. While Gillespie argued for the value of this approach, she also wrote from a position of privilege at a small liberal arts college, which was very different from the large public institutions where most people teach. I couldn’t help but think that the model that she held up was completely impractical for any institution that was not wealthy; her program depended on funding from the Mellon. In our resource-challenged environment, to have five students attend from various participating institutions to take part in a single class seem to border on the precious. We need answers that are not confined to wealthy small colleges, but rather can be used in a range of institutions.

The world has also changed dramatically since she wrote, in particular with the rise of the BRICS and other institutions. Many new Turkish universities have better infrastructure than their American counterparts. The Brazilian government is sending a 100,000 students abroad to study STEM. As I wrote in a previous post, with the rising cost of graduate education in the U.S., students at my own institution are increasingly applying to graduate schools abroad, everywhere from Germany to South Africa. The old model in which the U.S. exists in a position of educational privilege is evolving.

Still, Gillespie raised some important points. International and Global Studies programs find strength in their interdisciplinarity. But they also sometimes lack coherence, which reflects the need for a core definition of the program, as I discussed in an earlier post. I am not as certain as she is that international education has ignored the moral or philosophical issues related to globalization. I think that it would be hard to find a Global Studies program that does not address this. But she is right that we need to think more critically about the learning outcomes that we want our students to achieve. More seriously, educational leaders need to more fundamentally engage their communities in a discussion about why international education matters. In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about AACU’s serious work in this area, as well as the critiques that some other authors have made of international education.

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Prof. Smallman, Portland State University

1 thought on “Critiques of International Education”

  1. Pingback: Equity in Internationalisation | Intro to Global Studies

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