Internationalization is a crucial part of the agenda of any modern higher education institution. It takes various forms – from collaborative research to virtual teaching and learning, from student-staff mobilities to joint projects; from joint curricula and degree programmes to joint supervision and so on. Done correctly, undergirded by mutual respect and professionalism, it should enhance not only the global competitiveness of a higher education institution, but also its societal impact in circumstances of a win-win situation for mutual benefit. Importantly, in the Global South, internationalization in higher education carries with it the risk of neocolonialism. Neocolonialism in internationalization in higher education manifests in a variety of ways; in the transfer of a Western way of seeing, knowing, and understanding (teaching and learning), in the adoption of foreign practices and traditions of generating knowledge (research), and in the prioritization of Northern agendas and interests. Many times this happens to the complete neglect of local contexts. In such a scenario, internationalization not only fails to be locally impactful but also becomes harmful to the project of social transformation that higher education institutions are tasked with in unequal countries such as South Africa.
Community engagement offers important opportunities for the facilitation of a societally impactful internationalization in higher education. If community engagement is established as a critical component of every international collaboration, it can become a tool to ensure that the interests and voices of local communities are centered. However, for community engagement to have that kind of transformative effect on internationalization, the practice needs to be transformed, and explicitly grounded in decolonial, and Africentric ethics, theories, and practices. Internationalization that permeates community engagements, therefore, can lead to improved standards of living, greater access to essential services (housing, health, water and sanitation, electricity), expansion in networks and collaborations between individuals, entities, NGOs, institutions, firms, communities, and governments – leading to economic growth, poverty reduction, reduced inequalities, and reduced environmental degradation.
The SoBEDS Community Engagement Committee proposes a workshop on the role of community engagement in the development of a societally impactful internationalization in higher education agenda. The workshop will make use of case studies and thought-provoking talks and facilitated discussions to answer the following questions:
- How do higher education institutions internationalize while making critical contributions to the local communities they serve?
- How might higher education institutions in South Africa navigate and overcome neo-colonial influences in international collaborations involving the Global North?
- How might higher education institutions construct and acknowledge local populations/communities as knowers, co-producers of knowledge, givers and collaborators, rather than only as beneficiaries, charity cases, the subject of the Western gaze, and the object of curiosity and analysis?
- How do we hardwire intentionality and reflexivity in internationalization in higher education?
- How do we ground our international partnerships in explicitly defined and locally embedded ethics and philosophies concerning cooperation and collaboration?
- How might we foster connections between international students/researchers/academics and local communities, in a reciprocal, bidirectional fashion that ensures knowledge sharing and knowledge exchange, rather than extraction, beneficiation and poverty voyeurism?