“You don’t have to go big right away”

How do you link SDGs to internationalisation at home? Participants shared their experiences during the Nuffic masterclass on this topic. "Internationalisation is not an end point, but a continuous process."
Posted by Sang-Ah Yoo
Spreker aan het woord tijdens de Nuffic Masterclass

“That’s how my students feel!”, one participant shouts when the moderator says the speaking time is up. Welcome to the Nuffic masterclass ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and internationalisation’. This masterclass focuses on the role that internationalisation at home can play in pursuing SDGs.

Fifteen participants, ranging from international officers to curriculum developers and lecturers in higher education, talk about their challenges, gain new ideas, and engage in discussion with Eva Haug, an expert in IaH and COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning).

“Internationalisation requires a customised approach.”

Internationalisation at home, in which you gain international experience and competences without going abroad, has tremendous added value thanks to the inclusive approach,” Haug says. ”All students can gain intercultural competences, which are becoming increasingly important in a globalising world.” They learn to be more tolerant and open-minded, for example, and to understand and accept differences between cultures.

Haug discusses the formal, informal and hidden curriculum, the decolonisation of the curriculum and the use of indigenous knowledge systems: inclusion 2.0, so to speak. The participants express curiosity, engagement and recognition. There is a lot to discuss in a short amount of time. No wonder the moderator keeps pointing at the clock.

Sharing experiences

Are educational institutions committed to the SDGs? “Absolutely,” says Ragna Brouwers, lecturer in Tourism Management at HZ University of Applied Sciences in Vlissingen. “The SDGs for sustainability and inclusion are part of our institutional plan. If there is one challenge that the world is facing where education and research can play a role, it’s sustainability.”

“Almost all of our projects are linked to the SDGs. We try to incorporate the sustainability goals into the student’s mindset, integrate it as a way of thinking.”

- Ragna Brouwers, lecturer in Tourism Management at HZ University of Applied Sciences in Vlissingen

Internationalisation at home plays a major role in achieving these ambitions. In the Strategic stewardship module, students collaborate with peers from their partner university in Jakarta. ”They work in a virtual classroom to explore how overtourism in Bali impacts the environment and economy. How can you prevent negative consequences? But also: is the Dutch province of Zeeland facing similar challenges?” Almost all of the university’s projects are linked to the SDGs, Brouwers says. “They are reflected in projects and assessments. We try to incorporate the sustainability goals into the student's mindset, integrate it as a way of thinking.”

Internationalisation at homedoesn’t have to be difficult. “Have a group of Dutch students show some international students the hidden gems in the city and invite them for a chat.” This introduces them to other cultures and different perspectives. “You don”t have to go big right away.”

Carine de Wilde, senior International Relations Officer at Leiden University, agrees. “Too often we think that ‘intercultural’ is just about culture and nationality, but it’s mostly about different views and perspectives. You don’t necessarily have to cross the border to learn that.”

“I gradually noticed that I needed a new vision on internationalisation: a variety of different options for pursuing internationalisation.”

- Carine de Wilde, senior International Relations Officer at Leiden University

Leiden University is also focusing on the SDGs. These goals are reflected in the ‘Sustainability Vision 2030’, a Green Office and a Diversity Office, and the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus collaborative project, in which sustainable development goals are key motivators. De Wilde: “The broader ambition is to make the services offered by our international relations office more inclusive, diverse and sustainable.”

This also means promoting professional development for staff. ”Here’s an example. A lecturer in class says: whoever knows the answer can raise their hand. There will always be a group of students who will never ever do that, for instance because modesty towards the lecturer is important within their culture. If the lecturer is lacking intercultural competences, he or she will never reach that group. Furthermore, groups of students who are alike tend to sit next to each other. But a mix of different backgrounds yields creativity and innovation”, De Wilde explains.

During the masterclass, Haug referred to a six-part training course on internationalisation for lecturers, developed in part by Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. De Wilde: “Talk to colleagues from other educational institutions, from vocational education to research university level. Lecturers can inspire each other and share best and worst practices.”

International community

During the masterclass, participants brought case studies that highlighted their challenges the area of internationalisation. For example, Leiden University would like the student group that takes part in exchange programmes to be more diverse. De Wilde: “To do that, you could target specific groups of students. But how do you reach students with invisible diversity? Students from a low socio-economic background, or students with mental problems, or young people who are feeling homesick?”

De Wilde looked for a concrete answer during the masterclass. “But I gradually noticed that what I needed more was a new vision on internationalisation: a variety of options for pursuing internationalisation. A customised approach.”

She looks forward to sharing the knowledge she gained during the masterclass with colleagues. “Spending more time visiting lecturers in person. Planting seeds for internationalisation. There is a lot of knowledge at the university, but it’s fragmented. We have to open up our networks to each other and talk to stakeholders more about the learning outcomes and the added value for students.”

“‘Intercultural’ goes beyond culture and nationality.”

For Brouwers, the challenges were in a different area. “Because of the pandemic, we didn’t spend much time in the classroom over the past few years. To get back that student engagement, I want to set up an international community of students, lecturers, professionals and other stakeholders.”

But how does she formulate the objectives for the next two years? “Where are we, and where do we want to go? What are we ignoring and what are we focusing on?”

During the masterclass, Brouwers saw confirmation that creating an international community is a process. “You have explain where you want to go, of course. But internationalisation isn’t an end point. It’s a means, not an end. I already had a strong feeling that that was the case, and that feeling was confirmed during this masterclass.”

Would you like to learn more about internationalisation at home in higher education?