The role of the international academic community in shaping global campuses and classrooms

20 September 2017
Dean Hristov

Dr. Dean Hristov

Global Talent Research Analyst
Bournemouth University

Dr. Sonal Minocha

Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Global Engagement
Bournemouth University

Find out about UUKi's current mobility work here.

Campus internationalisation

Internationalisation at home, or campus internationalisation, is high on the agenda of UK higher education institutions seeking to provide opportunities for the non-mobile majority of students to internationalise. Despite having over 4 million mobile students worldwide (up from 2 million in 2000), UNESCO's databank points to a rather worrying fact – mobile students represent only 1.8% of all tertiary enrolments across the world. In the UK, only 6.6% of students have had an international experience as part of their degree. This begs the question, how can we introduce a more international curriculum and immersive global classroom experience for those 93.4% who are not involved in outward mobility?

Initiatives such as the use of international texts and research, inviting overseas guest lecturers and mixing up home and international students reflect some of the responses by institutions to introduce a more international campus and curriculum. Have we, however, explored the wider range of opportunities for campus internationalisation, beyond the obvious? Let's look at using international academic staff as a resource.

We would argue that universities are yet to recognise the potential role of international academic staff in globalising our campuses. A global academic workforce could be seen as a rich source of cultural, pedagogic and academic experience. It's a topic that deserves further attention.  

International academics in the UK on the rise

International staff represent a significant proportion of the academic body in UK institutions. In 2015, this was 27%, and, according to a study discussing Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) figures, this number is on the rise. In 2017, approximately 49,000 or 30% of all academics in the UK were international. Yet, their potential role in shaping a more global, context-driven and internationalised curriculum appears to be an untouched opportunity by universities and their leadership teams.


International staff entering the academic 'supply chain' in the UK often do so in areas deemed to be of strategic importance to the economy, environment and society. In particular, in areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Recent Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) research points out that 23% of all academic staff in engineering and technology subjects are international. This is almost twice the proportion of international academics compared to other subjects. As such, these staff can add a global perspective to a range of key UK higher education disciplines and strengthen the competitiveness of UK.

International academic staff provide a range of enrichment opportunities for higher education in the UK. Universities need to recognise the wider role that they have to play in helping the sector become truly internationalised. So, how can international academic staff contribute to our campuses and classrooms?

A diverse academic community can unlock pedagogic innovations

The growing international academic body in the UK presents opportunities to transform the content and delivery of programmes. Academic staff who have experience across borders can be considered as a source of informed global academic practice. Mobilising efforts to trigger a discussion on pedagogic practice beyond the UK context may enable innovation by challenging tacit assumptions about 'Western' and UK-centric approaches.

Such efforts, coupled with recognition, celebration and integration of the experience and expertise that international academic staff acquire across borders, may play an important role in UK higher education curriculum innovation and internationalisation. In so doing, universities have the opportunity to invite their staff to share good practice beyond the UK.

International academics can enable more meaningful internationalisation

International academic staff are an invaluable resource in assisting the internationalisation of universities, campuses and classrooms. They promote greater diversity in the classroom and a culturally-inclusive curriculum by bringing 'otherness' and cultural sensitivity to the forefront of higher education developments related to internationalisation at home.  

This requires change in our thinking and institutional practice. Universities should be encouraging greater interaction between home and international academic employees. This can serve as the basis for greater campus internationalisation and help to embrace diversity.

Homogenising academic practice is not the way forward

International academic staff still face a number of challenges when they are introduced to the UK higher education context. UK higher education teaching and learning frameworks are often deemed to be too narrow as they promote a tick-box approach and do not necessarily allow for sharing and celebrating good practice. International academics often need to follow prescriptive UK higher education teaching and learning practices.

The current policy and practice surrounding UK higher education teaching and learning frameworks, such as Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PG Cert) may be seen as an expression of our unresponsiveness as a sector to embrace this opportunity, where promoting the largely prescriptive doctrine has been the norm for quite some time.

In light of this homogenisation of academic practice, one would then question the extent to which pedagogic experience and expertise acquired across borders can be translated into the UK context and as such, allow for internationally-fused innovation to penetrate our campuses and classrooms.

The way forward - providing opportunities for all students to internationalise

There is, arguably, an opportunity for greater recognition of international academic staff and the role they play in key, strategically important, campus internationalisation processes. This, in turn, presents as chance to shape a curriculum that is globally relevant in partnership with our international academic staff on campus.

Introducing a more inclusive, adaptive and mindful institutional policy and practice on international academic staff might provide further support in institutional efforts in this direction, particularly in times when the competition for academic talent is fierce.

And while the sector aspires to double the percentage of UK-domiciled students who undertake international placements to 13.2% by 2020, international academic staff provide an invaluable opportunity for the other 86.8% to immerse themselves in a global experience. This however, depends on the interventions led by the sector towards embracing this rich source of international pedagogic practice and shaping a truly internationally-informed internationalisation strategy.

Our team


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