Guest Contributor: Phan Le Ha, Monash University
Is the over-promotion of ‘the’ assumed unproblematic western styled approach to internationalising higher education leading to a superficial engagement with Asia?
Late last year, the Australian Government formally linked the country’s future to its northern neighbours. Prime Minister Julia Gillard even declared: “Whatever else this country brings, it will bring Asia’s rise. Thus Australia should recognise that its future will connect with other countries within the region deeply and broadly”. Australian universities are not the only institutions rushing with eagerness to engage, if not embrace the region. European and North American institutions are not far behind.
The policies, practices and pedagogies of internationalisation of higher education around the world often assume the importance of English in the production, circulation and dissemination of academic knowledge. From Europe to Asia, from America to Africa and Australia, universities now teach many of their postgraduate level courses in English. Its numbers continue to increase unabated. Even global student mobility is based on how proficient a student is in the English language, displayed through strict admission testing. English has effectively become the language of internationalization in higher education, regardless of contexts, with all of its attendant benefits and costs.
The globalisation of English is without any doubt beneficial and positive on many aspects. What it has been doing to the internationalisation of education around the globe, however, is also fundamentally problematic. Although the discursive structure of internationalisation is English and policies and practices of internationalisation are driven by an emphasis on English, these policies and practices are not linguistically and conceptually neutral. Specifically, on the one hand, countries and institutions all take advantage of the international/global status of English; on the other, they exercise their preference for a particular kind of English associated with certain philosophy that best serves their internationalisation of higher education agendas and that is regarded as being ‘wanted’ by their own students and international students. In many multilingual contexts and settings, only being ‘literate’ and ‘competent’ in English is seen as being globally ‘valid’ and ‘legitimate’ literacy when it comes to assessing how ‘internationalised’ an institution is, as the evaluation of internationalisation largely aligns with how ‘proficient’ its staff’s and students’ English levels are.
Moreover, publications in English tend to carry more weight than those published in other languages, when intellectual recognition and what counts as knowledge is called into question. This poses a serious problem to knowledge production and scholarship building, with knowledge produced in English often considered to be ‘original’, ‘desirable’, ‘standard’, ‘relevant’ and ‘ranked’, while scholarship in other languages tends to be prejudiced against, viewed as being unrecognised, ‘unranked’ or of a lower rank. This mentality consolidates the dominance of English while at the same time causes knowledge disappearance in other languages. This is perhaps the most problematic issue resulting from an over-reliance on English of the internationalisation repertoire. Without intellectual engagement with other communities and in other languages, the internationalisation of higher education is flawed at its core, and would do a disservice to societies instead of benefiting them, as often promoted in internationalisation agendas worldwide.
The internationalisation of higher education through English, then, could be seen as the superficialisation of higher education too in many cases, as it only stops at the surface level of internationalisation, having little interest in engaging with knowledge systems and scholarship of the ‘global South’ or of those available in other languages. In the same vein, the internationalisation of higher education through English could also be named the instantisation of higher education, whereby English programs are available out there to be ‘recycled’ instantly and to be ‘traded’ as a commodity. Internationalisation really has to move beyond all this to enter a new era of intellectual engagement through linguistic and knowledge resources rather than just promoting English monolingualism at all levels of internationalisation.
Phan Le Ha lectures in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia. She has been publishing in the area of English language education and international education. In her work, she engages critically with the debates surrounding the global status of English. She can be contacted at email@example.com.