Teaching and Learning Forum 98 [ Contents ]

Is internationalisation in the classroom a reverse discrimination on Australian students?

Dr Chika J. Anyanwu
Communication and Cultural Studies
Curtin University of Technology
In one of my classes of (46 students) mixed nationalities including Australia, I adopted different teaching techniques in order to find the most suitable for communicating with their varied backgrounds. The techniques ranged from lectures with the options for students to interrupt for questions and/or clarification; lectures without the options for interruption, lectures with notes available in the library; lectures with overhead transparencies instead of notes and/or notes; lectures with intercultural grouping of students for discussions. At the end of the sixth week of lectures I requested a feedback from the class to enable me assess their level of understanding and the effectiveness of my techniques. From their feedback three suggestions emerged: The dilemma begins when we realise that majority of the students who favor the second option are non Australian students. How does one reconcile satisfying the financial backbones of the school with the educational foundation of national students?

Theoretical background

Those of us who have gone through various kinds of colonisation envy our Western counterparts who have not or claim not to have been through such an "exciting" experience. At the same time I pity them for their lack of such an experience which the world needs to have. Because they were the colonisers, and not the colonised, they did not feel the full effects of colonisation beyond text book analysis, and may not be aware of the dangers of those policies that could result in their self colonisation, such as the present internationalisation of education policy. From Marx Weber's theory of social relation[1] where he distinguished between open and closed relations, closed relation excludes outsiders and protects internal wealth and cultures. Open relation allows for external reciprocity. If we extend Weber's thesis to contemporary global education policies it can be inferred that western nations have applied the closed social relation policies in their colonising ideologies while economic necessity has dictated an open door approach.

Such open relation has led to what we now refer to as globalization. It has an indirect self colonising effect. Its interactivity subsumes a reciprocal dialogism. Although the degree of external reciprocity may not individually equal the national output, its diversity and multifariousness can create a cultural dementia in the host. This relational equilibrium (easily seen as cultural hybridity) creates an osmotic dilemma on the internal unity of a less diversified interactant.

Educational curricula have taken dramatic shifts along with economic and political changes. Developing nations are no longer blindly importing western educational modules. They are now vetting their foreign trained graduates in terms of relevance and adaptability of skills to national needs and objectives. In Nigeria, graduates of certain institutions in America are subjected to serious scrutiny before being accepted into certain key national positions.

"Privatisation of services creates incentives for individuals to behave not like citizens but like self-interested, individualistic competitors"[2]. Internationalisation of education is an indirect privatisation of university curricula to meet foreign demands and institutional shortfalls. It has led to the concept of 'education for hire' (Reid 1996). While we can easily tag contemporary globalisation theories and politics to McLuhan's global village thesis of the 60s, it may prove more difficult to specifically date internationalisation. It is even more difficult in the days of economic determinism to be sure of what we mean by internationalisation. The polysemy of interpretation, especially from a postmodern discourse, does not assist the multifarious ideological undertones subsumed in the construct of internationalisation. I will approach the matter from a postcolonial point of view and define it as a reconstructed imperialisation. It comes in various strands such as cultural, economic, political and intellectual colonisation. Internationalisation is a user-friendly term in an era of political correctness. It is a western invention to soften the tension of colonisation in an age of economic interdependency (interdependency because of the global shift in natural resources, not its exploitation). The term is convenient to describe western packaged global problems and seemingly global solutions in exchange for some unrefined third world resources. It removes the disenfranchising connotations of colonisation and infers that all animals are equal even though some must be more equal than others.

In this case internationalisation of education can be seen as the difference between intellectual disenfranchisement and intellectual dislocation, where the former is achieved by physical suppression and the latter by ideological manipulation. As a policy it would be positively assessed both within and outside its geographical base if it was a part of a universal policy of equal national inputs, implementation and obligation. Sushila Niles[3] said that, unlike Quik's interpretation, education is not an international commodity (p.164). Internationalisation of education coming from past colonisers creates a Shakespearean euphemistic death with a golden axe, especially among victims of former imperialism. In an era of global recession the manipulation of educational resources for economic exploitation is equal to intellectual depravity and leads to Karl Marx's property ownership and intellectual control.

Historical background

Historically, educational marketing worked very well for America in the early 1970s to the 1990s. From a spotlight theory of global progression America was then seen as the centre of the new world technology and economy. With Asian economic boom of the 90s, the rush for their educational market has become highly competitive. Unfortunately the Australian government's deregulation policy on higher education came at a time when emphasis had shifted from closed relation to open confrontation. By open confrontation I mean the awareness of developing nations of the exploitative nature of western aid, and their determination to challenge the cultural devastation and economic marginalisation caused by colonisation.

Such awareness and strategies to implement change have contributed to the demise of Western capitalist centrality or the core/periphery model of capitalism. It has reached the level of a decentred network. "However critical one might still want to be of the unfettered processes of capitalist enterprise, the target has now become much more elusive. Conspiracy-style theories of global disparities don't have the purchase they once seemed"[4]. The era of direct colonisation and economic exploitation is over. This is an era of reciprocal exploitation, or at least from the concept of globalisation and internationalisation. It is past the sender-receiver module and has gone in a full circle from sender to sender as receiver. Similarly education has ceased to be a west/south contract of give and take. It has become a circle of retributive intellectualism. Every 'giveness' in the contract is tied up with a conditional 'takeness'. The giver is no longer an independent decision maker but a part of a global decision network. It is an era of interactive intellectualism.

The growth of the Asian economy and the global rush for a piece of the action triggered Australia's awareness of its position in the Asia Pacific region which has long been neglected due to its (supposedly European) origin. According to John Docker[5], the white agent of colonial oppression (Australia in the Asia Pacific) is threatened by a necessary inferiority in what Fanon calls a 'hierarchy of cultures'. "It is metropolitan-derived, but not metropolitan, both European and not European, both superior to what is displaced and threatened by the inevitable inferiority of distance from the cultural source" (p.443). It is such short-sightedness that created the Keating/Mahathir sour relationship, re-ignited by the Pauline Hanson factor and worsened by a Howardian indecisiveness. It was not until the recent South East Asian fire disasters and stock market crash that it dawned on the Howard government that the country's economy depends on the Asian economy as much as it is depended upon. Australia is trying every avenue to fit within the Asia Pacific region both as a philanthropic neighbour and as an exporter for its own financial gain. The education sector has capitalised on this "good neighbourliness" to tie the government's AusAid with "attractive course packages". With the de-regulation of education policies, universities have gone berserk in course creation and packaging in order to lure overseas students to enrol in their courses. Some universities have axed so many traditional courses to make room for the "more viable" ones (those offered to international fee paying students). The frenzy of such drastic changes was not helped by Amanda Vanstone's educational funding cuts. The university became a state of nature in which the law is the survival of the fittest.

In the mad rush for international students and their money many logistical problems were either not addressed or forgotten. One such problem is addressed by this paper. what about the local students? Where have the universities left Australian students in their rush for "international money making students"? What is the effect of this neglect in the classroom environment? I will address this question through a hypothetical school system and use that model to analyse the data from one of my international classes.

Hypothetical module

The school adopted a policy of interdisciplinary exchange among staff as a means of saving costs and promoting research funding. Let us put face to this dilemma. The economic benefit of internationalisation has masked most of the psychological trauma suffered by Australian students. Unfortunately an economically determined policy juxtaposes its sociocultural obligations and mortgages its citizen's social benefit. Higher education according to Paul Bourke's report of 1986 provides public good[6]. Public good is a 'social service' which puts welfare above economic gain (p5). On the other hand Jon D. Stanford[7] said that university education is an economic decision made by a student for a higher future gain. Does the student in this case have a say in the running of the business?

According to R. D Scott[8], the rise of the market in universities has led to a dramatic shift in regulatory standards and has been seen as a viable means of conserving taxpayers' funds and creating greater efficiency within university administration (pp. 7-10). Such a shift in regulatory standards has led to pedagogical shifts in such areas as research, teaching mode and consultancy. The end product of the entire economic shift is summed up in Rosaleen Love's statement: "we are exchanging the ivory tower for the biscuit tin factory".[9]

Data analysis

This data is from one of my international classes and should not be used as an absolute. It is used here as a reference point in the actualisation of international programs. The class is made up of 30% Australians; 45% Singaporeans; 17.5% Malaysians/Brunei and 7.5% European students (by combining Singapore with Malaysia and Brunei, we have 62.5% South East Asian students). In my assessment of the success of the course and my techniques of teaching based on questionnaires, the following (relevant extract) results emerged: According to the students' comments, the best things about the course were approachability, humour and energy. The worst things were the pressure and speed of lecture. Financial constraints are not directly linked to employment. 100% of the European students said they would work with or without financial subsidy. Only two Singaporean students would work with or without assistance. 27% of Australian students fell into this category. Reasons given by this category of students ranged from the need for better standards of living to job experience. Only one works purely for independence even when given financial assistance. The implication of this trend (which is not new) is that, in as much as financial handicap is linked to employment among students, it is also linked with future prospects (work experience). The competitive edge of capitalism has created this trend in the work force. This has extended to create an extra burden in the classroom. Students are more likely to take up vocational courses with which they can interactively link their working environment than elite intellectual programs. This creates a need for interactive facilitation rather than formal lectures series. The sessions become terminal rather than having library follow ups. Students spend more time in simulating reality than abstracting reality. They would prefer packaged lecture notes and discussions than go to the library for independent research. It is not because they are lazy. On the contrary it is because they are too busy trying to fit into the ever changing demands of internationalisation (technological applications, cultural integration, economic expectations and industrial transformation).

While every student goes through this rigor of change and adaptation, it becomes both ethically and logically questionable if they do not receive equal treatment at the end of the course. Can an Australian student who studies with these foreign students claim an international education status when applying for positions in or outside Australia? If not, why subject such students to the same internationalising hardship as those who will claim such entitlements?

Another discriminatory (and more dangerous) practice of the internationalising process is the quota system. For a lucrative course designed to attract international fee paying students, there is a quota placed on Australian students but none on international fee paying students. The implication of this system is that the best of the best in Australian students will manage to squeeze into the same program with the wealthy students from overseas (who do not necessarily have the same academic merit). At the end of the day the most employable graduates are those from overseas. In the short term, universities have got international money to give retirement packages to create spaces to employ international consultants, establish new language programs, import foreign language specialists etc. In the long run, the country will need to import those students to teach such courses and of course, claim back their school fees. In as much as this may seem far fetched, logically the country's educational policy of internationalisation is a self colonising program. In the classroom, the cultural divergence of students will be compounded by the literacy imbalance. It will cease being a question of finding an acceptable technique which will cut across cultures, but it will mean finding alternative bridging courses that will aid their understanding.


  1. Marx, Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretative Sociology. New York, Badminister Press, 1968.

  2. Anna Yeatman in Ian Reid, Higher Education or Education for Hire? CQU Press, Rockhampton 1996.

  3. Sushila Niles, "Bondage without Bonds: Constraints of First World Influence on Third world Education". In Gillespie and Collins (eds.), Education as an International Commodity. Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Conference of the Australian and NZ Comparative and Int. Education Society, QLD, 1986.

  4. Kenneth Thompson (ed.), Media and Cultural Regulation. SAGE Publications in association with The Open University, London, 1997.

  5. John Docker, "The Neo-colonial Assumption in University Teaching of English". In B. Ashcroft, G. Griffiths and H. Tiffin (eds.), The Post Colonial Studies Reader. Routledge, London, 1995.

  6. Paul Bourke, Quality Measures in Universities, CTEC, 1986, cited in R. D. Scott, "Politics, Markets and Tertiary education" in Gillespie and Collins (eds.), Education as an International Commodity. Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Conference of the Australian and NZ Comparative and Int. Education Society, QLD, 1986.

  7. Jon D. Stanford, "International Trade in Education" in Gillespie and Collins (eds.), Education as an International Commodity. Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Conference of the Australian and NZ Comparative and Int. Education Society, QLD, 1986.

  8. R. D. Scott, "Politics, Markets and Tertiary education" in Gillespie and Collins (eds.), Education as an International Commodity. Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Conference of the Australian and NZ Comparative and Int. Education Society, QLD, 1986.

  9. The Australian, 19 March 1986.
Please cite as: Anyanwu, C. (1998). Is internationalisation in the classroom a reverse discrimination on Australian students? In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 17-21. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/anyanwu.html

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