Blog post

Can we reimagine the future of international education?

February 25, 2022
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By Ezgi Ozyonum

A beautiful mural of a child who looks optimist Credit: Sarah Ardin

Internationalization impact lives, especially in attitudes concerning higher education studies. Like hundred and thousands of others, I moved to Canada – a global international education leader - to get my degree.  Almost all universities around the world are faced with internationalization. For the past decades, it has been at the centre of most higher education institutions’ agendas. And it will remain so in the future.

Should we keep internationalizing?

The phenomenon of Internationalization of higher education can be described as “the intentional process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education, in order to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff, and to make a meaningful contribution to society”. Given that internationalization is an intentional process, it is essential to be attentive to the motivations of post-secondary institutions to internationalize. There is increasing pressure on universities and colleges to internationalize to stay competitive in the global economy and be accountable in their social responsibilities to the communities. Yet, it is vague whether everyone benefits from this process equally.

A graffiti of a pointing hand Credit: Jon Tyson

Critical concerns

In recent years, the focus was on how to internationalize our educational institutions has raised some critical questions about who suffers and benefits from internationalization. In particular, the movement of internationalization is currently from the East to the West or from the Global South to the Global North. This Western orientation in internationalization creates some complications and missed opportunities.

One of the complications is setting criteria for universal values in international curricula. The current international curricula are informed by Western-centric knowledge rather than reflecting various ways of knowing. Arguably, the current approach to internationalization promotes Western norms and standards. Therefore, it is problematic when higher education internationalization implies Westernization, and Western values spread worldwide as being universal.

A mural of a dark ghost Credit: Jon Tyson

Is internationalization a form of colonialism?

The current internationalization of higher education climate promotes differences among nations and knowledge. As a result, there is a Western dominance in knowledge production. From my experience, most of my university professors in Turkey received their degrees from Western institutions. This Western dominance fosters Ango-centrism that English is the primary language of instruction in international education. Although the country’s official language is different, universities adopt English in their education to gain international credentials. Because of the Western model in credentials, immigrants in Canada struggle to get their prior education recognized.

In the same way, how a difference is constructed among peoples, language, and knowledge through colonialism, internationalization follows similar colonial engagement. Colonialism did not include land conquering only, but also it involved control over people’s language, identity, and ways of knowing. This difference among nations and knowledge allows this control to continue in the process of internationalization.

Here is where my doctoral research comes in. First, it identifies how the narrative of higher education internationalization perpetuates colonial patterns. Then I aim to explore the extent to which colonial educational engagement can be interrupted in international education to move towards equitable, diverse, and inclusive commitment.

I value having sustainable and ethical global relations and respectful international partnerships among universities. Many can benefit from the diversity of student and faculty mobility. This international dialogue can enhance societies if it is done inclusively. Of course, internationalization has considerable potential to improve the quality of education the research for all students and staff.

But are we there yet?

Two hands on a mural signing of the protest symbol power Credit: Jon Tyson

Decolonizing Internationalization

I recently came across this tweet from a professor at UdeM. Dr. Bilge tweets, “now let's talk about how "decolonize" has been turned into a hot sauce you can put on everything”. Even though decolonizing has become a buzzword, it is essential to discuss decolonizing internationalization. Of course, “decolonize” is not a hot sauce to add to the current structure. Instead, it is a lens to transform the colonial systems and forms.

So then, my question is whether we can decolonize our international educational institutions? Whether university is a suitable vehicle or not for decolonizing? What are the opportunities and limitations of this work?

I recently organized an inspiring panel to discuss these questions with international faculty, practitioners, and students. My take was: although there are many complexities and barriers to this work, the future of our higher education institutions is in our hands. Our steps today will inform our future. In the end, the future of our institutions rests on having mutually beneficial collaboration opportunities and continuing these decolonizing discourses on many levels and layers.


About the author

Photo of Ezgi Ozyonum

Ezgi Ozyonum is a PhD candidate in Education. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Bilkent University and completed her master’s degree at Middle East Technical University. Ezgi has taught at the department of Education, Concordia University, and has delivered workshops for Concordia’s Centre for Teaching and Learning and GradProSkills.

Her research brings critical and decolonial perspectives to the study and practice of internationalization and decolonization in higher education. Through her work, she seeks to interrupt common colonial patterns of education engagement. She presented her research at many national and international academic conferences including Comparative & International Education Society (CIES), American Educational Research Association (AERA), and Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE). Her research findings could move Canadian Universities towards a more equitable and inclusive future.


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