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OPINION: Internationalization: a matter of content rather than numbers

OPINION: Internationalization: a matter of content rather than numbers OPINION: Internationalization: a matter of content rather than numbers

Photographer:Fotograaf: ThinkStock

Being an international university is not only about the number of foreign students. Research and education at UM need to be steeped in all things international as well. It is time for a viable internationalization strategy, writes Lies Wesseling, Director of the Centre for Gender and Diversity.

The UM rightly prides itself on being the most international university in the Netherlands. The downside of this achievement is that one comes to take internationalization for granted, like the air we breathe. However, one need only take a few steps outside of the university to discover that  the value of internationalization is anything but self-evident.

As president of an international research society for young people’s texts and cultures, which has around 370 members from 47 different countries world wide, I was in a for a rude surprise last summer. While in the last months of preparation of our 23rd biennial conference, we were forced to witness how 20 per cent  of the papers by delegates from non-Western countries were withdrawn due to the newly imposed US travel restrictions and the overall ‘chill’ caused by them, a significantly higher percentage than the ordinary last-minute withdrawals of conference papers. We concluded from this setback that the time had come to explicate and defend anew the values informing international approaches to our research field. This resulted in a joint statement of principles that explains why the free flow of people and ideas across borders is indispensable to the work we do, with a selection of our members reading the statement in their own languages, disseminated through facebook and youtube.

While collaborating on this statement, it seemed to me that the time has come for the UM as well to explicate and defend anew the values that inspire an international academic community. And all the more so now that other Dutch universities are following suit. Ideally, an apology for internationalization moves beyond the merely pragmatic argument that it boosts student numbers and is of eventual benefit to the economy. This argument has already been made in a government-commissioned report of the Centraal Planbureau (De economische effecten van internationalisering in het hoger onderwijs, 18 April 2012, www.cpb.nl). An academic institution which profiles itself as a “globally connected university” might want to aim higher than that, by explaining the added value of internationalization in terms that bear directly on the quality and content of research and education. How global does UM want to be, precisely, and how does the global mobility of students and staff feed into our curricula? Through MUNDO, Maastricht University has been very effective in the global dissemination of PBL, but how about impact in the reverse direction? Are UM curricula and research topics also becoming less Eurocentric and more glocally oriented? A viable internationalization strategy has to offer clear perspectives on these issues, which need to be defended proactively before another Rick van der Ploeg (no, not a PVV populist, but a former Labour State Secretary for Culture and Media!) indicts the UM for inviting the whole world to a party at the expense of the Dutch taxpayer.

Lies Wesseling

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