Janaury 2013 Issue • Volume 41 • Issue 1

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International Perspectives

Internationalising the Curriculum:  Economic Rationalist or Transformative Approach

Cynthia Joseph, Monash University


The terms “internationalization,” “internationalization of higher education,” and “internationalization of the curriculum” are now important features of higher educational policies and practices in the neo-liberal, post-industrial western and European nations (e.g., Australia, UK, U.S.) and transnational agencies (e.g., OECD, World Bank).

Australia is a major player in the international education market. Australia’s early involvement in international education was through the establishment of the Colombo Plan in 1951—a regional organization that embodies the concept of collective inter-governmental effort to strengthen economic and social development of member countries in the Asia-Pacific region. International Education was based on a philosophy of aid (Meiras 2004). Thousands of Asian students from South and Southeast Asia were given scholarships through this scheme, which allowed them to study in Australian universities (from the 1950s to the 1970s). With the deregulation of the Australian education sector and introduction of new incentives for entry into international markets in the late 1980s, international education became market-based.

Australia hosts about 7 percent of the world’s international students, and it is the third most popular destination after the United States (17 percent of international students) and the United Kingdom (13 percent) (OECD 2012). International students represent approximately 20 percent of all higher education students in Australia. The downward view of higher education in Australia has shifted from a public good to a private consumer good. Universities now have to attract more full fee-paying international students to make up for growing budget deficits in the sector (Marginson and Considine 2000).

Approaches to International Ed

Research on International Education and Internationalizing the Curriculum can generally be grouped into three approaches: economic rationalist approach, integrative approach, and transformative approach (Clifford & Joseph 2005; Joseph 2012; Matthews 2002). These approaches are based on very different assumptions about education philosophy and practices. An economic rationalist approach focuses on educational capitalism and markets in relation to international students and transnational programs. The bottom line is revenue and fee-paying students are viewed as “customers” and part of the university’s global trade, and “curriculum is seen as “an international commodity to be traded” (de Vita and Case 2003). The curriculum is standardized for all students within this approach. Academics are seen as workers who “deliver pre-packaged education with efficiency and economy” (Schapper and Mason 2004).

An integrative approach is understood as the tokenistic practice of including some non-western academic literature into an already existing curriculum. Mohanty (2003) describes this as “brief forays by students and faculty through the curriculum into non-Euro-American cultures.” This discourse and educational practice reaffirms Western and European nation-states as the normative context and positions the non-western as the other. Issues around hierarchies of knowledge production and cultural differences are silenced.

A transformative approach is aligned with a critical understanding of pedagogical inquiry that includes inclusive education, feminist pedagogies and anti-racist and postcolonial pedagogies. Attention is paid to the complexities and interconnectedness of difference. Mohanty (2003) argues that these differences should be used to establish the base and practice of solidarity and also to analyze the relations of power and allocation of resources. The basic tenet of this approach is then a need to interrogate the philosophical underpinnings of the different epistemological frameworks and link to cultural hierarchies (Joseph 2012).

A Public or Private Good?

In keeping with global educational trends and developments in capitalist and post-industrial western nations, Australian universities now function as neo-liberal, entrepreneurial and managerial educational institutions. While academics in these market-oriented institutions are constantly negotiating the tensions between knowledge growth and economic growth, academics continue to reclaim the public good dimension of universities. Henry Giroux, a key theorist of critical pedagogy, reminds us that higher education is a site of critical thinking, collective work and public service (Giroux 2002). Academics through their teaching, research and community service, contribute to the public good and to the betterment of society. Academics must hold on to these moral and political responsibilities, even in the midst of universities functioning as corporations that provide a private good for student consumers (Giroux 2002).

A critical approach to International Education and Internationalizing the Curriculum provides academics with the pedagogical tools for the pursuit of knowledge that can help us transform the world that we share to be more equitable, more inclusive, more just, and more humane. In my experience at an Australian University, I have found that Internationalizing the Curriculum involves critical considerations of epistemological and ontological frameworks in the interplay of knowledge construction, curriculum, and pedagogy (Joseph 2012; Matthews 2002). In our teaching and other academic practices, there is a need to interrogate the philosophical underpinnings of these different frameworks and link this to cultural hierarchies. We must continue to strategize, survive, and build meaningful lives as academics and educators. At the same time, we should continue to make visible our knowledge traditions and critical pedagogies in this new entrepreneurial university environment.

Cynthia Joseph works in the Faculty of Education at Monash University in Australia as a Senior Lecturer. Her research and teaching draw on postcolonial studies, international and comparative education, and Asian studies to understand identity, cultural differences and inequality issues in education. She also examines the ways in which ethnicity, race, and gender are (re)configured in these globalising and transnational times.


Clifford, V. and Cynthia Joseph. 2005. Internationalisation of the Curriculum: an Investigation of the Pedagogical Practices at an Australian University. Melbourne: Monash University Press.

De Vita, Glauco and Peter Case 2003. “Rethinking the Internationalization Agenda in UK Higher Education.” Journal of Further and Higher Education 27:383-398.

Giroux, Henry. 2002. “Neoliberalism, Corporate Culture, and the Promise of Higher Education: The University as a Democratic Public Sphere.” Harvard Educational Review 72:425- 463.

Joseph, Cynthia. 2012. “Internationalizing the Curriculum: Pedagogy for Social Justice.” Current Sociology 60:239-257.

Marginson, Simon and Mark Considine. 2000. The Enterprise University: Power, Governance, and Reinvention in Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Matthews, Julie. 2002. International Education and Internationalisation Are not the Same as Globalisation: Emerging Issues for Secondary Schools. Journal of studies in International Education, 6:360-390.

Meiras, Sandra. 2004 “International Education in Australian Universities: Understandings, Dimensions and Problems.” Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 26: 371–380.

Mohanty, Chandra T. 2003. Feminism without Borders: Decolonising Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

OECD. 2012, Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2012-en.

Schapper, J. and S.E. Mayson. 2004. “Internationalisation of Curricula: an Alternative to the Taylorism of Academic Work.” Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 26:189-205.

Submit Ideas for the International Perspectives Column

Footnotes invites contributions from knowledgeable non-North American sociologists on the state of the discipline and profession of sociology in countries outside North America for publication in the new occasional column, “International Perspectives.” Sociological analyses of significant national events in these countries that would be of interest to North American sociologists are welcome for publication. Original contributions must be in English and no more than 1,100 words. To discuss possible contributions or send material, contact Johanna Olexy (olexy@asanet.org).

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