Exploring the state of Internationalisation of the curriculum at a Swedish university: lessons learned
Globalisation and technological development are steadily reshaping the landscape of higher education (HE) and making new demands on higher education institutions (HEIs) to prepare their graduates for the challenge of living and working in a globally connected world. According to the OECD (2018), global awareness and social and cross-cultural skills are highlighted as 21st-century skills that students need to succeed in their future careers.
A recent study from the School of Health and Welfare at Jönköping University, Sweden have explored current Internationalisation of the Curriculum (IoC) practices and perceptions among teaching staff. The study has also addressed enablers and blockers that local teaching staff face in their efforts to internationalise the curriculum. Lucie Weissova and Ann Johansson, authors of the study, explains why this is an important study and practical implications that can be drawn.
Why is this study relevant for Higher Education Institutions (HEI)?
The recent socio-political developments affecting the whole world have proven that HEIs cannot rely on student mobilities as the only source of developing students’ intercultural competencies. Research acknowledges that internationalising the formal curriculum at home is the way HEIs can meet the needs of globally diverse students, increase the quality of education, and educate interculturally competent graduates prepared to live in and contribute responsibly to a globally interconnected society.
Starting with the scanning of the current situation and identifying the elements impeding and enabling the IoC process, are the first steps in increasing the awareness among the academic staff and planning the future steps.
What in your opinion are the most important conclusions that can be drawn from the study?
Our findings confirm that IoC-related activities are mainly happening at the course level, but these are often implicit. This is problematic as the responsibility then remains on the individual teacher, often the so-called ‘internationalisation champion’, who enthusiastically fulfil the IoC mission but as the Intended International Learning Outcomes (IILOs) are not specified on the programme level, the whole work can crash if this person moves to another position or get retired. Also, without clear IILOs, there is a risk of a misalignment between the learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment. We have seen that some programmes might be successful in identifying IILOs but much less successful in assessing them. Additionally, if academic staff do not make IILOs explicit, students and even colleagues might have a hard time identifying the IoC activities in the classroom.
Surprisingly, no participants mentioned inflexible curricula as a blocker in internationalising the curriculum, even though curricula at the universities providing health-related programmes are typically highly regulated. Less surprising were the main blockers to the IoC process reported by academics. These were lack of time and support, both on the institutional and programme level. The most effective enablers were identified as personal international experiences and commitment to internationalisation.
Removing the blockers and reinforcing the enablers should be a priority for HEIs. If personal international experience, be it in the form of face-to-face or virtual staff exchange, is the most promising enabler, it should be (re)structured to serve IoC more effectively than today. For instance, it could be specified in advance how each staff exchange contributes to the IoC process not only at the individual but also at the departmental and institutional level. Teachers’ experiences should be disseminated and followed up after the mobility. Today, this new know-how, practices, and skills often stay with the teacher. The connection to the overall goal on the departmental and institutional level and follow-ups after mobility are often disconnected.
Can the results be also applied in other areas but the health sector? How?
The need for IoC exists across disciplines. Yet, the perceived urgency and the IoC processes and approaches might differ depending on the individual disciplines. Some authors advocate for the cross-cultural approach as there is so much to learn from other fields, while others prefer the discipline-specific approach with very concrete examples. There is no magic formula to follow, and each university needs to contextualise the IoC process according to its needs.
Regarding health-related programmes, the recurrent reaction is that these students need to focus on the Swedish labour market and regulations. However, these students will meet culturally other persons (e.g., clients, patients, and colleagues) every day in their working life, and it is the HEIs’ responsibility to prepare them for this everyday reality.