Local moorings, international visions : fabricating internationalised practices in Australian higher education

O'Regan, Justine Mary (2006) Local moorings, international visions : fabricating internationalised practices in Australian higher education. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Over the last two decades, Australian higher education has undergone dramatic changes in purpose and orientation. Changes in public funding arrangements and concomitant policy statements have contributed to the reconceptualisation of Australian higher education, and internationalisation has become a core goal for Australian universities. In light of these dynamics, this study examined understandings of internationalisation within two Australian universities.

The study examined the ways in which internationalisation was understood by university staff working in either a teaching capacity and/or a managerial position. Situated within the broad field of critical sociology, the study drew on critical realism (Bhaskar, 1979, 1989), critical epistemology (Carspecken, 1996) and reflexive sociology (Bourdieu, 1972, 1990) to analyse how the universities and their staff positioned themselves in relation to the goal of internationalisation. Furthermore, the study examined how this goal served to reposition the institution and/or various forms of university work. The insights of critical social theory were used to examine the contested power relations associated with the growing importance attributed to the goal of internationalisation in Australian higher education.

The significance of the study resides in its recognition of the ways in which academic and non-academic subcultures within the university contribute to the goal of internationalisation. Whereas previous research viewed divergence of understandings as weakening the commitment given to internationalisation as an institutional goal, this study has shown that such diversity stems from the differential encounters with and experiences of internationalisation. Moreover, in previous research, the pre-determined objectives for internationalisation resulted in the compartmentalisation of this goal, as in economic objectives and academic objectives. In contrast, this study focused on the dynamic and evolving nature of internationalisation in higher education. Consequently, the study's contribution lies in its explanation of the long term benefits to be derived from viewing internationalisation as a dynamic and generative phenomenon, rather than simply as a pre-determined goal.

A case study approach was used in this research with two contrasting onshore Australian universities selected as the case sites. One institution had a reputation as an elite, research intensive university. The other was a post-Dawkins university with a strong vocational orientation. At each site, semi-structured interviews were conducted with staff from across the university's hierarchy. Interviewees included the Pro Vice-Chancellor for the Office of Internationalisation, the Chair of the Academic Board, the Director of the Teaching and Learning Support Unit, Faculty Deans, Heads of Departments, as well as departmental staff concerned with first year teaching. Departmental staff were drawn from two disciplinary areas, Australian History and Marketing. Interviews engaged participants in discussion about the processes by which internationalisation was enacted. Furthermore, university documents, such as the Strategic Plan, were analysed in terms of how the given institution constructed the need for internationalisation and the means by which this goal was to be achieved.

The study found that internationalisation involves and promotes constant adaptability. The two institutions used whatever resources they had to develop and promote their international aspirations. The international visions of the institutions were influenced by both their historical and intended relationship with the broader higher education world. The elite, research intensive institution viewed internationalisation with becoming a university of international standing. This institution used its bureaucratic and hierarchical nature to advance its objectives for internationalisation. The vocationally oriented university had developed an internationalisation policy with a view to maximising the revenue to be derived from its diverse international activities and to gaining greater prestige within the higher education field.

Staff involved with managerial and/or teaching work were found to develop their ideas about internationalisation through a combination of personal and professional experiences. The study confirmed the growing trend for academics to assume managerial roles in addition to their teaching and research. Consequently, accounts of internationalisation were not necessarily confined to a purely managerial or an academic perspective. Furthermore, the accounts of internationalisation differed between and within the two selected disciplines. On the one hand, specific disciplinary attributes could be seen by the academics interviewed as inherently international, even though they may not assist in realising institutional objectives for internationalisation. On the other, academics spoke of the perceived need for the frames of reference used in undergraduate education to be broadened, given the globalised nature of contemporary society and/or the increasing international enrolments. The study concluded that internationalisation is an important means by which the localised priorities of an institution, an academic department, and/or of individuals can engage with forms of global mobility. Moreover, the study argued the need for all staff and students in Australian higher education to see themselves as part of the processes of internationalisation. This latter point raises questions about the personal and professional attributes required of academics when working within internationalised Australian universities.

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ID Code: 16245
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Taylor, Sandra
Keywords: academic work, critical epistemology, critical realism, critical sociology, globalisation, higher education, intercultural connectedness, internationalisation, internationalisation at home, international/overseas students, local-global dynamics, reflexive sociology, undergraduate education, HERN
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Justine Mary O'Regan
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:59
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:45

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