When Internationalization Fails To Diversify Higher Education

In this guest post, Dr. Ali Khorsandi Taskoh (see his full biography at the end) criticizes the efforts of Canadian colleges and universities to recruit international students overwhelmingly from wealthy nations and families.  He argues that such practices do little to contribute to diversity in higher education.


The Dirty Little Secret of Internationalization of Higher Education

Ali's PhotoInternationalization has become a significant feature of the higher educational landscape in North America. Canadian universities aim to become the 21st century leader in international education. These institutions are planning to double the population of international students in the coming five years. The government has changed immigration policies in order to attract more international students. Yet, Canadian institutions are struggling to attract top talent foreign students. Their administrators are just chasing and hunting applicants from around the world to generate more financial resources to run institutions efficiently.

“Diversity” and “inclusion” inherently are significant components of international education. The university is a place where diversity and acceptance of diversity must have a chance to flourish. Internationalization is a great way to foster and increase the diversity on campuses and the institutions. Internationalization and diversity initiatives commonly have shared aims of enhancing cultural awareness and understanding in higher education. Diversity is the central reason why universities have put a priority on internationalization and its different initiatives and strategies worldwide. The main educational undertaking of today’s universities is supposed to be to produce graduates who are sensitive to social diversity and attuned to the contemporary realities of globalization. Real diversity is supposed to make campus life rich and educational experience richer for students, faculty, and staff.

Diversity is presumed to be the major part and component of internationalization in Canadian institutions because of the multicultural environment of the country.  But the existing policies and programs, from recruiting international students to exchange programs and partnership, are more aligned with homogenization rather persuasive inclusions. The strategic plans of internationalization in Canadian universities are commonly committed to selectively target students from particular countries and areas of strategic importance to the policy makers. To me, the term “selectively” in practice implies admission of international students from a few economic-booming countries and selective wealthy families.

The Consequences Of “Selective” Internationalization

These practices are problematic in so many ways. First, selective commitment to diversity cannot properly support excellence, equal shot, equal opportunity, equal access, and quality in community and campus which I am firmly committed to. The selective commitment of the internationalization plans may lead to a homogenized culture and discourse of inclusiveness on campuses and classes. The present trend of selective admissions policies may lead internationalization initiatives to privilege certain groups of students over others.

The other effect of this selective attitude of internationalization is that post-secondary education in some parts of the world has been glorified at the expense of other parts. Those privileged areas either could be “sellers,” predominantly rich Northern countries of the West, or “buyers,” predominantly developing but rich nations commonly in East Asia. The recently emerged market of higher education in a few countries and high flow of international students from these countries has led to a homogenized diversity on the Canadian campuses, departments, and classes. Accordingly, a kind of diversity that directs departments and universities, for example, in Ontario to recruit 60% of its international students from the same country with the same culture, the same language, and the same sub-culture. This is not realistic and is wrong in many ways, and is simply not convincing to most of the academicians and faculty community.

The issue is not just focusing on a few specific nations to recruit more foreign students, but that student exchange programs are only limited to some developed and privileged countries. Among the two hundred countries of the globe, the students’ exchange programs are mostly limited and dominated to a few developed and privileged countries (e.g., USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, England, China, Brazil, etc.). Beside these fortunate countries, the institutions also need to target students and faculty exchange programs to institutions in developing and less developed countries.

Another example of the homogenized discourse of diversity is that, according to an official report [PDF] of Association of Universities and Canadian Colleges (AUCC) in 2014, almost every institution in Canada has many collaborations and associations with institutions in a one specific country in East Asia just because that country is doing very well economically. And the Canadian universities will keep engaging in dialogue with peers at institutions with a particular focus on some selective countries in East Asia.  Perhaps the market logic and financial pressure drive the university’s administration to focus on a few particular countries, but the argument is that it may prevent many qualified local and international students from middle- and low-income families and non-privileged countries from attending the university. The issue is, therefore, not merely the presence of many students from a certain part of the world on campuses or their dominant sub-cultures in students’ communities; the criticism is about the economic-political tendency of existing internationalization to homogenize the Canadian universities. In other words, the issue is not simply the homogenized culture of international students on campuses and classes; rather, it is also the dominant logic of homogenized discourse in off-campus internationalization activities.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, the universities’ current policies and procedures of internationalization have little to do with heterogenized diversity and persuasive inclusiveness. The hegemony and supremacy of current homogenized inclusiveness may exclude talented people from the less privileged parts of the world to get to good universities in North America. Canadian universities need to be more open to inclusion and diversity through their different initiatives of internationalization, particularly recruiting international students and exchanging faculty. It is expected that internationalization in Canadian universities, as an element of global public good, should reflect and support the diversity of greater society on campuses. Accordingly, the administrations and policy makers of Canadian universities need to go on the side of heterogeneity over homogeneity.



Ali Khorsandi Taskoh (in Persian: علی خورسندی طاسکوه) holds a PhD in Educational Policy Studies, graduated in the spring of 2014 from The University of Western Ontario, Canada. His education, including both undergraduate and graduate, has been based on education in administration (B.A.), planning (M.A.), and policy (PhD). He has had the opportunity to be an educational researcher and department chair at the Institute for Social and Cultural Studies, based in Tehran, from 2003 to 2009. Dr. Khorsandi has conducted five research projects (with grant funds), published five books and several papers and book chapters. He has been the founder of an academic journal entitled, Interdisciplinary Studies in The Humanities (based in Tehran), and was the first deputy in chief and editor of this now top-tier national journal. He has also been a teaching assistant in the areas of policy and leadership, international education, professional education, and international mathematics at Western University from 2009 to 2014.