Internationalisation has a number of potential benefits, such as pooling resources across national borders to allow the development of specialised joint programmes in emerging areas, and a mutually enriching process (Gough, 2005) of widening perspectives that can take place when higher education programmes draw on multiple knowledge traditions. Cross-border encounters can feed creative dynamics and serve as a catalyst to innovation. But such positive potentials are lost when internationalisation is driven towards standardisation (Wihlborg & Teelken, 2014).
Internationalistion of higher education is an important European goal (De Wit et al., 2015), aiming at supporting both knowledge development and high quality education for the professionals of tomorrow. Academic leadership in internationalisation would ideally be coupled with the ability to imagine and facilitate innovative ways of structuring education, as well as the ability to shape organisations that anticipate significant changes in society at large. At the same time, while we do know that society is changing, many important circumstances are not foreseeable, especially in the longer term (Stromquist, 2002). Rather than preparing students for a set of knowable circumstances, a crucial feature would therefore be to prepare for dealing with new situations (Barnett, 2012). This includes the ability to collaborate with other professional groups in different ways (Faulconbridge & Muzio, 2012), the ability to take initiatives and to develop relevant knowledge and knowhow.
However, in the absence of binding commitments to other values, educational development generally and internationalisation processes more specifically, will tend to be shaped to follow financial incentives. This ultimately serves to meet the needs of the financially strongest individuals, groups and countries, to the detriment of others (Stromquist, 2002; Gough, 2005; Frenk, 2010), and can lead to deep-reaching inadequacies in the form and content of our education. In the case of nursing and the health sciences for instance, 2015 witnessed serious crises that exposed some of the problems with our current education systems (cf. Frenk, 2010). In the face of such challenges, innovation in HE becomes a major concern, to train creative professionals who themselves are able to organise their work in new ways.
Leadership can play a role in opening opportunities for innovative educational development (Smithee, 2012), but is limited by structural constraints (Beiklie & Michelsen, 2013), on the one hand, and by the scope of perspectives included in decision-making, on the other. Such effects are compounded by competing on the same markets for placing publications, obtaining external research grants or enticing paying students through position on ranking lists (Hazelkorn, 2008). Being placed under the same structural constraints and conditions, applying the same quality criteria and operating on the same markets drives higher education institutions to aim for the same optimally profitable selection of programmes and profiles (cf. Beach, 2013; Bleiklie & Michelsen, 2013). Thus paradoxically, globalisation - in the sense of imposing a competitive paradigm measuring academic value and governing institutional development through indicators detached from both academic and social meaning – would tend to reduce diversity and limit the forms internationalisation can take. In such marketised landscapes of internationalisation, the competitive edge is obtained through mechanisms such as better initial financing, aggressive marketing or forming cartel-like groups, rather than looking to social needs or long-term sustainability. At different levels, academic leaders are socialised into a culture of mimicry (Brögger, 2016.). Over time, such mechanisms drive towards a depletion of the collective imaginary, affecting production of knowledge, but also limiting the models and forms that can be imagined by leaders. Supporting innovation in practice therefore requires some form of explicit and binding emphasis on differentiation, as well as innovative and more diversified leadership structures.
Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources UsedA significant aspect of leadership is connected to the way institutions hierarchically funnel relevant information to central vantage points to allow informed decision-making. Quality criteria play a strategic role in this process, by constituting the filtering grid that translates information about the institution into a form that is acted upon. The paper is a theoretical discussion of the impact of quality criteria and structural hierarchies in enabling or discouraging innovation with respect to internationalisation in the educational development of courses and programmes. The content and orientation of nursing programmes in Sweden serves as an example for this discussion. Besides examining course descriptions from two Swedish programmes to gain a picture of the concrete educational content and prioritisations, the study looks at a selection of steering documents, activity reports and recent programme evaluations for these institutions concerning the period 2010-2015. The analysis concerns explicit criteria and drivers appearing in the various types of documents, but drawing on Bacchi (2007) also attempts to shed light on implicit criteria and some of the presuppositions (Ruiz, 2014) that underlie the educational development and evaluation policies with an impact for the programmes. The analysis focuses: 1) a) explicit quality criteria b) implicit quality criteria 2) structural effects linked to a) disciplinary hierarchies b) professional hierarchies c) national and linguistic hierarchies. An inventory is first made of explicit criteria and hierarchies, while implicit presuppositions are identified through a process of discourse analysis (Hyatt, 2013). Such hierarchies will ultimately impact who is given voice in decision-making processes, and which concerns are given priority. Implications of the observed constraints for possible innovation in educational development for internationalisation are considered, adopting a critical stance. Alternative forms of leadership are proposed based on these implications and to counteract the weight of marketised incentives, as well as dysfunctional effects of indicator-driven decision-making. Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or FindingsIn the Swedish contexts examined in this study, the ambition to lift nursing to a professional status on par with medicine appears to have slowed down. Although internationalisation aims are phrased in socially progressive terms, content and evaluation criteria suggest that social and preventive medicine remains deprioritised. First world health issues are dominant, and international communication is limited to English. Publication in a reduced set of international journals has emerged as a central quality indicator. Dependence on external funding is increasing, and a divide seems to be appearing between so-called research intensive institutions and institutions mainly dealing with education. Ever since tuition fees were introduced for non-European students in 2011, bringing in paying students also emerges as an assessment parameter. These tendencies mirror developments in other European contexts. Unless explicit and binding drivers for more socially equitable higher education are introduced, there is a risk that research and training will be financially constrained to serve only the richest segments of the richest countries. New forms of collective leadership would be required, to address urgent international needs visible on our horizons. To counteract reductionist and standardising tendencies in internationalisation, alternative leadership strategies might strive to include vantage points from other positions in the institution and create fora for dialogue that are not mediated through rigid steering systems. Quality criteria that effectively support creativity might be envisaged, as well as criteria that do not implicitly rest on fixed hierarchies between disciplines, professions, languages or nationalities. Mechanisms are needed to quickly respond to emerging situations, such as the Ebola epidemic or the rapid increase in refugees. Finally, at institutional levels, efforts could be made to create structures that allow plural and polymorphic leadership, stretching diagonally across borders, as well as moving beyond the scenarios laid down by existing disciplinary and professional hierarchies. ReferencesAerden, A., De Decker, F., Divis, J., Frederiks, M. & Hans de Wit, H. (2013). 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internationalisation, global health, nursing education, leadership, internationalisation policy
ECER 2016: Leading Education. University College Dublin, Dublin, 22-26 August.