Impacts of international education in community environments

Introduction

The expanding presence of internationalising institutions in cities and towns is typically accompanied by developing physical infrastructure, service provision and strategic relationships. In this context, multiple dimensions of engagement imply potential and actual impacts on communities and social relationships. These might include teaching and learning practices that facilitate cultural understandings and interactions, the effects of supporting international students’ experiences and contributions, and initiating new forms of institution-community collaboration through policy and programs. Each of these dimensions potentially develops relationships between local publics and institutions. This paper looks at engagement that inevitably impacts in some way on both institutions and their communities.

The intentions of international educators to develop and build social and cultural capital¾education quality, research capacity, intercultural relationships, diplomacy and community development¾underpin institution-community interactions. This objective acknowledges the ambition of pioneers in the field whose vision was often more altruistic than material, and which recognised potential for international education to contribute to social and cultural change (Adams, Banks & Olsen, 2010, p.10).

Despite positive objectives, related research literature that explores tangible impacts or transformations is limited. Despite this, in professional practice and institutional records, there are documented community-based transformations.

International education in the social environment

In 2001, the New Zealand government’s commissioned literature review of local and international research in this area found that no studies were identified ‘that explicitly examine the impact of international students on the larger community’ (Ward, 2001, np). In her report, Ward was critical that, ‘Despite the need to learn more about the dynamics of these [community] interactions, most research has been conducted within educational institutions as opposed to within the broader community’, indicating that communities as social entities have been under-represented. As expected, research activity is increasing in this area, but there are gaps in the content and continuity of the literature. This is perhaps a result of limited research collaboration between international education institutions and wider community groups that looks beyond documenting strategically popular community engagement practices, and that examines tangible impacts or social change. Further, practitioner-researchers who often work at the institution-community interface in international student programs and community partnerships grapple with limited resources and support to refine, extend and publish their work in this area.

The importance of context

The community context itself is important because universities and other educational institutions ‘are embedded within various overlapping historical, political, and economic relationships with their surrounding communities’ (Dempsey, 2010, p.364). Universities and wider communities have distinct histories, locations, structures, power relations and capacities to form relationships between their constituents. Dempsey’s study of a developing community-university partnership between the University of North Carolina and three distinct geographical regions of North Carolina proposes that an abstract conception of community suggests ‘an already constituted, fully formed community’ (Dempsey 2012, p. 366) by denying diversity and the transformative potential of collaboration. In Australia, Ruth Fincher’s work on the experiences of international students in the city of Melbourne also challenges the assumption of a ‘cosmopolitan norm’ (Fincher, 2011, p.912), suggesting we should consider more seriously the role of dynamic community factors in the impacts of international education activity.

It is assumed here that the impacts of international education are locally mediated. To illustrate this, Munro and Livingston (2012) examined the impacts of student populations in five UK cities, where there was unmet demand for and stresses upon the provision of appropriate student housing. Data from interviews with students (not specifically from overseas), residents and community service providers demonstrated the differentiation of these five local environments by attitude, perceived social challenges and institution-community responses. The study found that the particular local context, and the role of the universities in mitigating negative impacts shaped the ways students interacted with these communities. In another study in New Zealand, Cooper and Ho (2005) researched a range of public perceptions and programs across four New Zealand cities, finding variations across cities according to issues faced, size of the international student population and the background of international education in those places.

Further, the attitudes of communities towards local universities may affect the degree to which institutional collaborations and consultations will be productive. In her analysis of the partnership-building process, Dempsey cites one community-based participant whose perspective illustrates both divergence of approaches for community development and the importance of consultation:

[You’ve] got all these papers sitting on top of shelves that you’ve been doing all these years. And the one component that was missing was that the community was not involved in it other than giving the information. It was never brought back to the community. (Dempsey, 2010, p.372).

The example illustrates the potential of institution-community relationship and the mutually constitutive and complex possibilities of education institutions and their local environments. Other elements are relevant in the effects and impacts of international education; internationalisation theory, policy and practice and sites of institution-community engagement.

Impacts: Internationalisation in learning communities

internationalising institutions are framed as communities of practice (Wenger, 1998, 2006) that share common concerns and values, that strive to improve not only their pedagogical and curriculum environment but also, typically, the social environment of campus and community. Contributions in the internationalisation literature by de Wit (2011), Jones & Killick, (2007); Jones, (2010); Killick (2007) Knight, (2013) Leask, (2012, 2010); Trahar, Green, de Wit, & Whitsed, (2016) explore education environments that may also extend into host communities (Beelen & Jones, 2015), and the value of international students as resources in host-communities (Mestenhauser, 2003; De Wit & Jones, 2014).

Leask and Carroll (2011) found that ‘reflective practice and seemingly small adjustments to a program can significantly impact on the extent to which students engage in meaningful cross-cultural interaction’ (Leask & Carroll, 2011, p.653-4), indicating that building student skills and capacities to interact with cultural others will impact the academic and social environment in some way. Similarly, specific interventions such as mentor and peer support programs and facilitated mobility among international and domestic student cohorts have demonstrated value in relationship-forming between individuals and groups (Baron & Carr, 2008). In particular, new social networks and opportunities for student development through such interventions support student retention, academic transition to university and learning strategies for international and domestic students (Baron & Menzies, 2014; Arkoudis & Baik, 2014). Thus, beyond personal skills and development, social impacts of internationalisation practices potentially emerge in the lived experience of students as part-time workers, graduate employees and as globally mobile citizens.

In sectors other than higher education, some valuable exploration exists in school communities. Arber (2008) and Arber & Blackmore (2011) studied the responses of schools to the presence of international students, finding that, for the most part, the impacts of international students on school communities included modified teaching practice and improved pastoral care management for the whole student body across the schools in the study. Across education sectors, international students are acknowledged as bringing ‘an international perspective to classroom discussions and that they challenge and encourage teachers to consider new methods of instruction that are more consistent with their previous learning experiences’ (Ward, 2001, np).

Impacts: community contexts

The nature and role of wider communities in the history and development of international education remains under-recognised. Work is still emerging that examines the mutual impacts on communities and international students’ off-campus experiences such as in accommodation and use of community services. Fincher, Carter, Tombesi, Shaw, & Martel (2009) researched international students’ geographic and social interactions with the city, gathering evidence of mapped student movements and follow-up interview data. The authors concluded that physical infrastructure and ‘limitations of commercially developed student accommodation and an unwelcoming urban landscape’ (Durance, 2016, p.119) were restricting factors impacting on the subjects’ urban experience. This, the authors argued, resulted in ‘poverty of social experience and engagement’ in Melbourne (Fincher, Carter, Tombesi, Shaw, & Martel, 2009, p. 94).

Impacts: international student advocacy and public awareness

International student impacts through advocacy and activism remain largely ignored by research, with some exceptions (Fincher, 2011; Durance 2016). International student organisations, representation, advocacy and activism ‘involve international students in Australia’s multicultural community through events and programs’ (AFIS website). In doing this they generate a range of impacts including public awareness, media attention and in a number of instances, policy change (Australian government, 2009; Chau, Li & Noor, 2010; Durance, 2016). International students and their representative bodies (CISA[1], AFIS[2], FISA[3], for example) are also at the forefront of political activity and have significant potential and actual influence on media and policy. Michiel Baas (2009, 2015) has contributed valuable data and analysis on the impacts of the ‘Indian student crisis’ in 2008-2009, predominantly in Melbourne, raising issues about the positioning of international students in mainstream communities. His comment that the critical incidents witnessed in the public domain at this time gave rise to an ‘array of discussions ranging from the future and reputation of Australian education to the diversity, multiculturalism and the presence of ‘others’ in Australian cities. (Baas, 2015, p. 57). During this time, the presence on international students in major cities became a part of the public conversation, with media commentary focusing on reputational risk to the international education sector (Collins, 2010). Paltridge, Mayson & Schapper, (2014) produced an extensive analysis of The Australian newspaper’s coverage of the period, describing the nature and impacts of the incidents on negative public opinion that was easily generated through simple triggers of underlying attitudes about Indian students, ‘representing a shorthand for “international students”’ (ibid, p.111).

Impacts: employment practices

Part of the discourse during the critical incidents mentioned above, and in the current period, relate to the working conditions of international students, their position as temporary non-citizen workers and consequent structural change to workplaces. In the UK, Munro, Turok and Livingston (2009) describe impacts of student labour on workplace practices where the ‘availability of a supply of students willing to accept short-term contracts, intensive work practices, and nonstandard routines may enable employers to change the way they manage their workforce, including having fewer permanent full-time staff and more temporary part-timers’ (Munro, Turok & Livingston, 2009, p.1817).

Similarly, In Australia, the literature records social impacts on the employment market of international students, including public exposure of poor work practices. Data gathered on international student employment by Nyland, Forbes-Mewett, Marginson, Ramia, Sawir, & Smith (2009) had already described a vulnerable workforce, many working beyond the legal hours allowable on their student visas. There were a number of reasons for this, but the situation was seen to give rise to exploitation by employers who could pressure students to work as requested, or be reported to the immigration authorities. Later, in 2012, the union United Voice collaborated with Victorian TAFE International to publish their findings of similar conditions in the retail cleaning industry (Victorian TAFE International/United Voice Victoria, 2012; United Voice, 2013), where international students working extra hours for no pay and enduring rude/abusive behaviour from supervisors was rife. The advocacy of the international education VET sector gave impetus to student activism and public debates about fair work and systemic non-compliance with federal workplace laws.

On 9 April 2016 the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) released its report on the findings of its inquiry into the 7-Eleven franchise network, finding widespread wages fraud, anticipating court proceedings and supporting information and advice for the workforce affected¾largely, but not entirely international students. A significant impact for social policy is that the FWO is now ‘receiving more requests for assistance from visa-holders than ever before’ (Australian Government, Fair Work Ombudsman, Statement on 7-Eleven, 9 April, 2016). Overseas workers are now actively encouraged to report exploitation and poor conditions.

Impact: social policy

A number of Australian national, state and local government initiatives explicitly support international students’ engagement with their communities (COAG, 2010; City of Melbourne, 2013; Committee for Melbourne, 2015; Government of Victoria, 2013, 2016). Mutual benefits include better student representation and ‘a more effective means of exchanging information and advice’ (COAG, p. 14). Part of this process involves developing and incorporating welcome activities and including ‘international students as equal members of the local community’ (Committee for Melbourne, 2015, p.10). Through these shifts, the social and cultural business of cities and towns is impacted by international education. In reality, however, student representation is yet to be integral to international education policy making.

Conclusion

The connection between community engagement and international education is important to understand in relation to economic development, relationships and the sharing of knowledge and skills (Fleischman, Raciti & Lawley, 2014, p.3). These connections include interactions, interventions and internationalisation practices that aim to cultivate relationships on and beyond campuses between international students, local groups and organisations. Impacts, positive and otherwise, are seen in public debate and policy responses to events and incidents as well as systematic practical strategies to manage social change.

Research to explore students’ personal development, social wellbeing and employability is important (Fincher, 2010; Tran & Pham 2016), and may offer institutions and their publics enriched understandings, more targeted student management strategies and more informed community relationships. Also important is how communities regard themselves in relation to international education. The dimensions of change, such as effects on stakeholder groups over time (attitudinal change and agency) and the magnitude of that change (anecdotal or systemic) could be more clearly defined in research designs that account for community contexts.

A greater research focus on the consequences of our internationalisation activities would enhance our understanding of communities and provide institutions, communities and policy-makers with deeper understandings of international education in all its community settings.

———————————-

Paula Durance 20 June 2017

paula@ieknow.com.au

[A version of this paper is in press]

——————————

References

 

Adams, T., Banks, M. & Olsen, A. (2011). Benefits of international education: enriching students, enriching communities. In Davis, D. & Mackintosh, B. (Eds), Making a difference: Australian international education. University of New South Wales Press, pp.9-46.

Arber, R. (2008). Interrogating ‘imagined’ communities : exploring the impact of international students in local schools. Race Ethnicity and Education, 11(4), pp.387-404.

Arber, R. & Blackmore, J. (2010). The impact of fee-paying International students on Australian secondary schools, teachers and students. Research Report. Deakin University.

Arkoudis, S., & Baik, C. (2014). Crossing the interaction divide between international and domestic students in higher education. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1, pp.47-62.

Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS). http://www.afis.org.au/

Australian Government. (2009). Welfare of international students. Canberra: Report of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee.

Baas, M. (2009). Curry bashing: racism, violence and alien space invaders. Economic & Political Weekly 34, pp.37–42.

Baas, M. (2015). The Question of Racism: How to Understand the Violent Attacks on Indian Students in Australia? Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal, 7(3), pp.37-60.

Baron, R. & Carr, R. (2008). Building a connected community of learners: the postgraduate peer mentor program. Conference Proceedings of the 19th ISANA International Education Conference, Auckland.

Baron, R. & Menzies, J. (2014). The mentor program at Deakin University: The impact of good practice.14th Pacific Rim First Year in Higher Education Conference, Darwin.

Beelen, J., & Jones, E. (2015) Europe Calling: A New Definition of Internationalization at Home. International Higher Education, 83(12).

Chau, W., Li, D., Noor, A. (2010). Advocacy paper: Social inclusion and international students. Conference proceedings of the 21st ISANA International Education Association Conference, Melbourne.

City of Melbourne. (2010). Policy for the 24 hour city.

City of Melbourne. (2013). A great place to study: International student strategy 2013-2017.

Collins, S. (2010, September 2). Indian student visas fall by half. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/indian-student-visas-fall-by-half-20100901-14nkl.html

Committee for Melbourne. (2015). Melbourne – a prosperous future: World leading international student city. Strategy paper.

Cooper, J. & Ho, E. (2005). A Tale of four cities: Community perception of international students in New Zealand. Conference Proceedings of the 16th ISANA International Education Conference, Christchurch, NZ.

Council of Australian Governments (COAG). (2010). International students strategy for Australia, 2010-2014. Canberra.

Dempsey, S. (2010). Critiquing Community Engagement. Management Communication Quarterly, 24(3), pp.359 –390.

de Wit, H. (2011). Trends, issues and challenges in internationalisation of higher education. Centre for Applied Research on Economics & Management, School of Economics and Management of the Hogeschool van Amsterdam.

de Wit, H. & Jones, E. (2014, 14 November). We need to change the language of internationalisation. University World News, Issue No 343.

Durance, P. (2016). Bringing the world to Melbourne: Transnationalism, agency and contributions of international students to making a city, 2000-2010. PhD Thesis, School of Education, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2017.46

Fincher, R. (2010). Internationalisation and the shaping of student lives in the city. Conference Proceedings of the 21st ISANA International Education Conference, Melbourne.

Fincher, R. (2011). Cosmopolitan or ethnically identified selves? Institutional expectations and the negotiated identities of international students, Social & Cultural Geography, 12,(8), pp.905-927.

Fincher, R., Carter, P., Tombesi, P., Shaw, K., & Martel, A. (2009). Transnational and temporary: Students, community and place-making in central Melbourne. Melbourne: University of Melbourne.

Fleischman, D., Raciti, M., & Lawley, M. (2014). A typology of international student community engagement. e-Journal of Business Education & Scholarship of Teaching, 8(1), pp.1-17.

Gilson, B. & Dempster, A. (2015). The benefits and challenges of working with a community group. Conference Proceedings of the 26th ISANA International Education Conference, Melbourne.

Government of Victoria. (2013). International education strategy for Victoria, 2013-2018. Department of State Development, Business and Innovation.

Government of Victoria. (2016). International Education Sector Strategy.

Gresham, R. (2003). Interaction between International Students and Local Communities: Can we make it happen, and if we do, what are the outcomes for the students, communities and universities? JANZSSA : journal of the Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association, 21, pp.20-34.

Jones, E. (2010 ). (Ed.). Internationalisation and the student voice. New York: Routledge.

Jones E., & Killick D. (2007). Internationalisation of the curriculum. In Jones E. & Brown S. (Eds.), Internationalising higher education, pp.109119.

Kell, P., Schmelitschek, V., Smith, A., & Vogl, G. (2008). Welcome to Wollongong community action project. Conference Proceedings of the 19th ISANA International Education Conference, Auckland.

Killick, D. (2007). Internationalisation and engagement with the wider community. In Jones E. & Brown S. (Eds.), Internationalising higher education, London and New York: Routledge, pp.135–153.

Knight, J. (2013). Probable and possible futures of internationalization. In H. de Wit, F. Hunter, L. Johnson, & H. van Liempl, (2013), Possible Futures: The next 25 years of the internationalization of higher education. Amsterdam: European Association for International Education.

Leask, B. (2009). Using formal and informal curricula to improve interactions between home and international students. Journal of Studies in International Education, 13(2), pp.205–221.

Leask, B. (2010). ‘Beside me is an empty chair’: The student experience of internationalisation. In E. Jones (Ed.), Internationalisation and the student voice (pp. 3–17). New York: Routledge.

Leask, B. & Carroll, J. (2011). Moving beyond ‘wishing and hoping’: internationalisation and student experiences of inclusion and engagement. Higher Education Research & Development, 30(5), pp.647-659

Leask, B. (2012). Taking a holistic approach to internationalisation – Connecting institutional policy with the everyday reality of student life. In Beelen, J. and de Wit, H. (Eds), Internationalisation revisited: New dimensions in the internationalisation of higher education. Amsterdam: Centre for Applied Research on Economics and Management, pp.71-86.

Leask, B. (2013). Internationalisation of the curriculum and staff engagement : an introduction. In Hans de Wit (Ed), An introduction to higher education internationalisation. Milan.

Munro, M., Turok, I., & Livingston, M. (2009). Students in cities: A preliminary analysis of their patterns and affects. Environment and Planning A, 41(8), pp.1805-1825.

Munro, M. & Livingston, M. (2012). Student Impacts on Urban Neighbourhoods: Policy Approaches, Discourses and Dilemmas. Urban Studies, 49(8), pp.1679–1694.

Nyland, C., Forbes-Mewett, H., Marginson, S., Ramia, G., Sawir, E., & Smith, S. (2009). ‘International Student-Workers in Australia: A New Vulnerable Workforce’. Journal of Education and Work, 22(1), pp.1-14.

Paltridge, T., Mayson, S., & Schapper, J. (2014). Welcome and exclusion: An analysis of The Australian newspaper’s coverage of international students. Higher Education, 68(1), pp.103-116.

Proctor, D. & Arkoudis, S. (2017). Internationalisation of Australian Higher Education: Where to from here? In James, R., French, S & Kelly, P. (Eds), Visions for Australian Tertiary Education. Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, The University of Melbourne.

Rosenthal, D., Russell, J. & Thomson (2006). A growing experience: The health and well-being of international students at the University of Melbourne. University of Melbourne.

Trahar, S., Green, W., deWit, H. & Whitsed, C. (2016). The internationalisation of higher education. In Case, J. & Huisman, J. (Eds), Researching higher education: international perspectives on theory, policy and practice. UK : Routledge.

Tran, L., & Pham, L. (2016). International students in transnational mobility: intercultural connectedness with domestic and international peers, institutions and the wider community. Compare: a journal of comparative and international education, 46(4), pp.560-581.

Victorian TAFE International (VTI) and United Voice. (2013). Taken to the cleaners: Experiences of international students working in the Australian retail cleaning industry.

United Voice Victoria. (2013). A dirty business: the exploitation of international students in Melbourne’s office cleaning industry. North Melbourne, Victoria.

Ward, C. (2001). The impact of international students on domestic students and host institutions. New Zealand Government Ministry of Education. Retrieved from: http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/international/

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (2006). Communities of Practice: a brief introduction. Retrieved from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm.

Zysk, A. (2005). Network Mawson Lakes: international and local links. Conference Proceedings of the 16th ISANA International Education Conference, Christchurch, NZ.

 

[1] Inaugurated on 7 July 2010, the Council for International Students in Australia (CISA) is the national peak student representative body for international students. It has strong recognition from the other international education peak bodies and the Australian federal and state governments.

[2] The Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS) was established in Melbourne in 2002 with an explicitly social inclusion agenda, seeking opportunities for international students to be part of Australian community life and to be an independent service to those students.

[3] The Federation of Indian Students in Australia (FISA) was incorporated in 2002. During the incidents involving assaults on Indian students in Australia, the Association played a high profile role in many Australian, Indian, and other international media sources.

What happens if something happens?

A reflection on professional development

We promote international education as a critical industry: ‘one of the five super growth sectors contributing to Australia’s transition from a resources-based to a modern services economy.’[1] On the ground, we encourage our international students to seek help and advice on everything from accommodation, academic study, to careers and visa conditions. These are matters addressed by general and specialist advisors¾the teams of service providers implementing institutional and government strategies.

These same advisors and administrative staff may also need to deal with a critical incident involving a student. What happens, what needs to be done, when ‘something happens’? A student goes missing, an accident, an assault, exploitation at work, a student’s personal crisis? Something that happens off-campus, out of hours, when a senior manager or supervisor is on leave? These scenarios are more common than we often admit, or are able to say.

We do not allow unqualified nursing or teaching staff to practise professionally. Other skilled workers must have appropriate accredited certification. Training is mandatory for people in hospitality and tourism, the other service industries we proudly promote. It is disturbing, and wrong that an international student’s disappearance, accident or other serious incident can be dealt with by an international officer who is untrained or unqualified. The reality for many professional practitioners is their reliance on information loosely networked through peer groups, or on unfamiliar institutional policy and procedures, or on the goodwill of colleagues who happen to be available and can share their expertise.

In 2000, one of the compliance requirements of the first ESOS National Code was to ensure ‘suitably qualified staff’ supported international students. To test this, ISANA developed professional skills and knowledge needs surveys and analyses in 1999 and again in 2004, when 56% of those surveyed reported that their institutions did not support their attendance at professional development sessions, or regarded it as unimportant ‘for staff at your level.’ One respondent wrote across her paper: ‘Anyone can do it, right?’ The current National Code of 2007 has no such ‘qualification’ requirement. This is also disturbing and wrong.

Where does this leave professional development in this hugely successful industry? Valued? Adequate? Available? High quality? From my research,[2] and from recent conversations with people in international student services and support, I’d say not yet adequately available nor adequately sophisticated. This is not simply a personal view, it’s framed by a historical narrative in which things have both changed, and have stayed the same.

A prototype workshop, Introduction to International Education, developed by ISANA for people working with international students was a bright idea in 1998 that gathered strength in 1999 after a piece of research that asked international student advisors to log their daily student-institution interactions for a full month¾onerous for the advisors, but a data treasure trove. These people reported everything from general enquiries to issues with study management, referral to health and other services, to visa expiry, non attendance, relationships, access to information, work rights; a veritable clearing house of student life and academic problems. These encounters are still commonly reported, but not always documented.

The Australian government supported the first Foundations of International Education workshop in 2003, now updated and delivered at the annual ISANA conferences. In 2004 there began another bold initiative, the development of an accredited Diploma of International Education Services developed in Queensland by PIER.[3] This qualification covered critical incident management, competency in compliance administration, international student support programs, cross-cultural teaching practice, student accommodation, marketing and finance. It was based on good design, sound teaching and applicability to the contemporary workplace. It was delivered online across the country to all education sectors, using interactive and tutoring models. Its supporters included the Queensland government, who pledged ‘learning accounts’ for all relevant staff in CRICOS registered government schools to undertake the Diploma as part of a systematic staff development program. PIER successfully delivered the Diploma until 2012, but where is it now buried? This could have become a national standard. Did we decide it wasn’t necessary? Oh yes, anyone can do it, right?

Instead, we’ve turned our collective attention to compliance administration, digging out dodgy agents and non-compliant colleges and, more recently, ‘non-genuine students’ as if this was the main business of international education. To be fair, there are admirable institutions who have modelled the professional development needs of their own staff and who manage systematic in-house training, including for academic staff who, of course, also support students. It’s ok if you happen to work in one of the committed institutions. But until there is an obligation to raise the national standards of our training in this area, we make do with silo offerings. Let’s not promise, as the National Strategy does, to ‘deliver support that meets or exceeds international student needs’ (p.14), because without developing all our staff properly, we can’t, and don’t.

What’s history got to do with it?

I’m reminded of a colleague’s comment recently; that we should always acknowledge the work of those who have gone before us; ‘the shoulders on which we stand.’

For me, one of those guiding lights was the late Professor Tony Adams in the mid 1990s, who always supported the knowledge and understanding we, in newly created professional roles, needed to gather and share. We learnt to be creative and generous in an increasingly market-focussed and competitive environment.

Then there were the deniers; one remarked with disdain that international student advisors were hand-holding international students. We needed to be tougher, he said. I thought at the time that hand holding was actually affirming¾if we could personally welcome and ‘deliver support’ to each one of our several thousand international students, that would be an achievement, surely? But, as another executive reminded me, when things get tough, the first thing to go is student support; this should be obvious. We can’t jeopardise the numbers, but we can let the hands go. I’m still waiting for someone to explain that logic.

In the light of real ongoing issues that we prefer not to speak about, assaults, scams, insecurities, mental health issues, and whatever else challenges our international education professionals, shouldn’t our approach be to provide more, not less, support for these people? While institutions are required to have a critical incident policy, for example, why is there no ESOS obligation to train staff in understanding and applying that policy? Sadly, in my experience, most people working professionally with international students will do whatever is necessary to help, even without resources or training. Dedication is easy to exploit. Burnout is common.

What is to be done?

We need to distinguish between information sharing (the networking and the authoritative kind), professional development (the events and activities, generously but sometimes arduously provided by professional bodies and institutions) and formal training (a standardised, accredited form of learning that ensures everyone has portable and high-level skills, knowledge and understanding). Formal training should be the baseline. We should think and act above the minimum standard required by the ESOS National Code that, like the National Strategy, says nothing of substance about professional development.

Josef Mestenhauser was a wise man. He understood the value of a professional international education workforce, whose knowledge, he said, ‘is a composite of mixing, evaluating, adjusting, using, integrating, selecting, rejecting and combining several knowledge systems.’[4] For people working with international students, it also requires an understanding of an environment that is in constant flux, in which student mobility takes new forms and in which cultural and technological shifts almost defy our understanding. This understanding is not the privilege of executives; all people working with international students need to access this knowledge. We must keep working on it¾researching, refining needs analyses, updating content, reaching out to new staff.

Collaboration is essential between academic staff, professional staff, community organisations and government strategists. We could be setting benchmarks, as Kahn and Agnew have suggested: thinking about the world relationally and through plurality and multiplicity; considering critical self-reflection; recognising interconnected and interdependent lives; pursuing understanding through collaboration and collective knowledge production; fostering responsibility and taking action.[5]

In addition, new knowledge and understanding should be developed about culture and cultural learning, and the way current international students experience their mobility and their capacities for relationships, employment and social change. In our thinking about preparing staff to work with these students, will we have the courage to implement a properly constructed national curriculum? Will we remember to ask, ‘What happens when something happens’?

________________________

Paula Durance PhD   May 2017  paula@ieknow.com.au

[1] National Strategy for International Education 2025 (2016). Minister’s foreword.

[2] See my papers: Dunstan, P. (2003). Towards Best Practice in International Education: Staff Training and Professional Development, IDP 17th International Education Conference, Melbourne, and Dunstan, P. (2007). Setting Standards for International Student Support, 2007 ISANA International Conference, Adelaide.

[3] Professional International Education Services Ltd. PIER still delivers other online courses including the Education Agent Training Course (EATC).

[4] Mestenhauser, J. (2000). Dual Functions of International Education Professionals: in search of their knowledge base. European Association for International Education, Amsterdam, Occasional paper no.12, pp.31-49.

[5] Kahn, H. & Agnew, M. (2015). Global Learning Through Difference: Considerations for Teaching, Learning, and the Internationalization of Higher Education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 21(1).

 

Professional development: has anything changed?

Back in 2003, I presented this paper at the 17th IDP Australian International Education Conference in Melbourne, Australia. In 2017, international education professionals might wonder what has changed in professional development.

 Towards Best Practice in International Education: Staff Training and Professional Development

Abstract

For some years, professional development programs for staff working in international education have been ad hoc and intermittent. In reality, practitioners frequently have little or no preparation or training support for their particular and complex work. While there are a few academic programs, by and large the demand for practical skills training has been unmet. ISANA: International Education Association has been delivering specialised professional development nationally, as well as in New Zealand. The organisation is now moving towards the creation of a standard curriculum suitable at several levels of expertise, and across all educational sectors. During 2003 this work has been made possible through membership input and Australian government support. Further developments will continue to address best practice and relevant competencies, responsive to government strategy, and institutional interests.

Continue reading

Bringing the World to Melbourne

Bringing the World to Melbourne: International Students and the Making of a City

 This is a summary paper and revised version of a presentation to the ISANA VicTas State Conference,

Melbourne, 9 September 2016*

An international student recently observed that, ‘We bring the world to Melbourne’, to describe her contribution (and that of her peers) to the city. On the face of it, bringing the world to Melbourne seems to be a simple idea of incoming diversity, in a city well used to such incomings. It supports perceptions of international students about their connections to the ‘most liveable city in the world’, their contributions to the character, youth and culture of place. It is an idea about social change, but it is not simple. In this paper, I reflect on recent research findings in relation to the interactions between international students and the city. [i] These include observations and memories of place, as well as interactions and engagement.

Melbourne’s ‘liveability’[ii] ranking presents the city as an entity with desirable—and marketable—social, educational cultural and environmental factors. The city is not in a fixed state, however. Population, infrastructure and diversity change over time. The history of place and human memory have a part in this. The idea of city is also unfixed; ‘incomplete with no centre, no fixed parts with often disjointed processes.’[iii] It is deconstructed, says Ien Ang, ‘by those groups who used to be marginalised within its borders but are now bursting out of them…’[iv] It follows that the experience of liveability is uneven across the population; the measure is always relative. In international student experiences, the marginalised-integrated, mobile-located binaries are also relative.

Continue reading

Beyond the campus : student engagement and community responses.

Beyond the campus : student engagement and community responses. In ‘Making a difference : Australian international education’ edited by Dorothy Davis and Bruce Mackintosh (2011), pages 338-364. Sydney : University of New South Wales Press.

This chapter considers the ways in which international students have engaged with and been supported by services and programs outside regular academic and student support systems. It provides a background to the environment in which international students operate, and which supports non-academic needs and expectations. This environment is populated by a wide range of cultural groups, community organisations and networks, some of them created by international students themselves, and others which have adapted and responded to their presence. These assist students to make connections between campus life and community support services, and with formal agencies such as police and local council services. They include organisations focused on welfare services, student health and accommodation. Prior to the introduction of full tuition fees for overseas students, a framework was developed for international student support, and a culture of welcome and assistance for newcomers unfamiliar with the Australian environment emerged.

For more information contact the author, to purchase the book, click here

 

Engaging with education agents in international student support.

Abstract
Education agents are a significant group in delivering education and services to international students. They are contracted by providers with responsibilities under the ESOS Act to ensure information, advice and professional behaviour meet quality standards. Agents are frequently involved in liaising with parents and providers after a student has commenced study, and are therefore valuable stakeholders in the student support process. One of the Australian Government’s Study in Australia 2010 initiatives announced in March 2009 was to deliver sector support by strengthening engagement with education agents through a collaborative project between AEI and Professional International Education Resources (PIER). This involved workshops and focus groups involving around 1142 education agents across six countries between May-August 2009. The focus group sessions considered student experience in Australia including safety and security; accommodation and cost of living issues; working with Australian education providers and identifying areas for improvement; and developing methods to showcase excellence in Australian education both of individuals and providers. Other issues addressed in the paper relate to what the Australian media thinks of education agents, what the education industry thinks of education agents, and what education agents think of Australian education.

See full paper here

Setting Standards for International Student Support

Abstract
The substance of this paper was delivered at the 2007 Australian International Education Conference in Melbourne, and presented as a stimulus for discussion about practical approaches to the issues of international student support management. This later version contains additional material that reflects the discussion and panel presentations at the AIEC session.

The impetus for the paper was the possible responses of providers to Standard 6 of The National Code 2007. One of the obligations, in Standard 6.6 of the Code, requires ‘sufficient support personnel to meet the needs of students…’ What do providers understand by this? What are our obligations to meet this specific requirement? Have we adequately defined the needs of international students? What is being done to implement this Standard?

The paper describes a small research study conducted with a number of universities and secondary schools. Staff capability, staff resources and international student services, all matters addressed in the National Code, are considered in a number of contexts. Focus is on the effective use of staffing to offer maximum opportunities for students to achieve overall success while they are studying in Australia.

Download the paper here.

Friendship : its contribution to identity formation of international students.

Friendship : its contribution to identity formation of international students. Clayton Vic: Monash University. MEdSt. 1999. 105p. Includes bibliographical references.

 

Abstract
This MEd thesis has developed from an interest in the intercultural friendships which develop in Australian universities. Relationships flourish, or not, temporarily or permanently, as people come and go. In the course of these comings and goings, exchange, knowledge, individual growth, courage, persistence, loneliness and friendship manifest themselves. This is a study of a small group of international students in an Australian university. Their stories are told in their own voices, and interpreted with the help of recent theoretical work in the field of international education. The study is based on a series of conversations which took place between July and December 1998. It was anticipated that connections would be made between friendships, formal and informal networks of the students, and their sense of identity as it emerged and altered during their sojourn in Australia. This identity formation, it was hoped, would provide insights into the ways international students engage in host institutions and communities, and the influence of institutional structures on this engagement. The narratives revealed distinct and individual experiences, and the students’ judgements about the value of their international academic experience. This included perceptions of the institutional setting, student colleagues and the relationships, which provide the material for this work.

For more information: Paula Durance