INTERNATIONALISATION OF THE CURRICULUM AND
INTERCULTURAL ENGAGEMENT – A VARIETY OF
PERSPECTIVES AND POSSIBILITIES
Dr Betty Leask BA, Dip Ed, M. Applied Linguistics, EdD
University of South Australia
Internationalisation of the curriculum is complex and multi-faceted. This paper
reports on research conducted in Hong Kong and Australia. A sample of staff and
students involved in the same Australian degree in both locations were
interviewed for insights into how they constructed internationalisation of the
curriculum – what they thought it was, how they thought it could best be achieved
and why they thought it was important. What they had to say was both predictable
and unexpected. Using critical discourse analysis the implications of their
perspectives for course and program development, for the professional
development of academic staff and for student services are explored. The central
role of intercultural engagement in the process of internationalisation of the
curriculum is highlighted.
One of the key challenges facing the global university community is the resolution of
contradictory images of the internationalisation of higher education. On the one hand we have
descriptions of approaches to internationalisation focussed on the preparation of graduates for
participation in an increasingly globalised society (Knight and de Wit 1995; Leask 1999;
Kalantzis and Cope 2000; Leask 2001; Leask 2003). On the other hand we have those who
argue that internationalisation in higher education is primarily concerned with the recruitment of
fee-paying international students by universities in the developed rich part of the world to the
immediate and long-term detriment of universities in the developing, poorer parts of the world
(Goodman 1984; Chitoran 1996; Hickling-Hudson 2000; Lee 2000; King 2001; Sharma 2002;
Yang 2002). There are also interim positions where it is argued that there are multiple agendas
(Knight and de Wit 1997; Gallagher 2002; Leask 2003; OECD 2004). The connections and
relationships between internationalisation and higher education are complex and this
complexity is reflected in the ways in which internationalisation is spoken about – the
discourses that construct it. Internationalisation defies orderly, organized and rational analysis.
Its meaning is not fixed, in place or time. On the contrary, different groups construct it
differently at the same time in the same place, at the same time in different places, and at
different times in different places.
This paper provides ‘snapshots’ of the experience of internationalisation through
internationalisation of the curriculum in different places and from different perspectives. It
strives for a deeper understanding of the complexity of internationalisation through exploration
of the construction of curriculum outcomes related to internationalisation in two different cultural
and educational contexts – Adelaide and Hong Kong. The research highlights the need to
embed and integrate intercultural learning into the culture of the university – to assist all staff
and all students to move into potentially uncomfortable intercultural spaces; to learn from and
with each other within those spaces; to challenge their stereotypes and prejudices and to move
on from them. It outlines an approach to professional development and student services that
provides multiple opportunities for this to occur.
Since 1996 seven Graduate Qualities have been used to assist curriculum planning and to
facilitate curriculum change in all undergraduate programs at the University of South Australia
(UniSA). To ensure that there is a correlation between the needs of the workplace and the
depth achieved in the broad range of skills demonstrated by graduates of different programs,
the balance of Graduate Qualities which will be developed in courses within a program must be
described as part of the program planning and approval process. It is also a requirement that
all Graduate Qualities are developed to some extent in all undergraduate programs. Graduate
Quality #7, which relates to the development of international perspectives, should therefore be
developed in all undergraduate programs, although it will be given more emphasis in some
than in others and may have a different focus in different types of program. Graduate Quality
#7 is the official representation of internationalisation in the curriculum and a range of
resources have been developed to assist staff and students to interpret this Graduate Quality.
The University of South Australia (UniSA) delivered its first ‘offshore’ or ‘transnational’ program
in Hong Kong over 10 years ago. Business Programs delivered in both Adelaide and Hong
Kong follow the same curriculum and require the same assessment tasks. They are delivered
primarily by Australian staff, but academic support is also provided by local tutors who act as
‘cultural translators’ for the content provided by the visiting Australian academics - the cultural
outsiders in the offshore location (Leask 2004). Such sites of interaction offer a rich source of
research data for the exploration of issues related to internationalisation of the curriculum in an
international and intercultural environment. This paper reports on one small research study in
this area, the findings of this study in relation to intercultural engagement and their implications
for professional development for academic staff and services for students.
The research study consisted of two small, related case studies of staff and student
constructions of Graduate Quality #7 (international perspectives) undertaken over a twelve
month period. Five focus group interviews were conducted with students and eight 1:1
interviews with staff. All those interviewed were actively involved in UniSA undergraduate
Business programs taught in Adelaide and Hong Kong. In Hong Kong the programs are offered
in collaboration with a local partner institution. In the Hong Kong case study staff employed by
the partner institution (referred to as ‘local tutors’), Adelaide-based staff who travelled to Hong
Kong to teach and Hong Kong based students were interviewed. In the Adelaide case study
domestic and international students and the academic staff who taught them (all of whom had
also taught in Hong Kong) were interviewed.
The case studies incorporated a number of data-gathering techniques in order to compare the
construction of internationalisation in Adelaide and Hong Kong - a complex issue with cross
cultural as well as physical, positional (staff/student) and personal boundaries. The main
source of data for the two case studies was the transcripts of the tape-recordings of the focus
group and 1:1 interviews. Sections of the transcriptions of the interviews were analysed using
an approach to critical discourse analysis informed by the work of Fairclough (1989; 1992) and
Foucault (1972; 1981). This approach allowed exploration of the connections, patterns and
recurring themes in the responses of staff and students in different locations to questions about
internationalisation of the curriculum.
The research question in each case study was ‘How do staff and students in this cultural and
educational context construct Graduate Quality #7 (international perspectives) and the roles of
teachers and learners in its development’. What did they think international perspectives were
and how would they know if they had developed them (students) ... or their students had
developed them (staff)? What characteristics would students who had international
perspectives show? How could the development of international perspectives be assessed?
What roles did teachers and learners play in the process of developing them?
The methodology provided opportunities for staff and students in both locations to speak about
internationalisation of the curriculum ‘in context’ at the local, personal and professional level.
The multiple perspectives gained in the case studies allowed triangulation of interview data
within and across the case studies. This assisted in clarifying the constructions of
internationalisation within each context and across positional, physical and cultural contexts.
WHAT ARE INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES?
The way in which staff and students in Hong Kong and Adelaide constructed international
perspectives, the outcomes of an internationalised curriculum, in their discourse was very
similar. They were related to globalisation; concerned with understanding difference and
diversity and the role that culture plays in that and with effective communication with cultural
others. They were likely to affect the away students think and act. They were seen as complex,
multi-layered and multi-dimensional and therefore very difficult to assess. All involved in it
appreciated the complexity of internationalisation. For example, while ‘difference’ needed to be
understood on both a global as well as a local scale, this was not enough. Practical skills that
would enable effective communication at the local level in spite of fundamental personal and
cultural differences and contextual factors such as roles and responsibilities in the workplace
were also highlighted as being an important aspect of internationalisation of the curriculum.
Self-awareness was also said to be closely related to the development of an understanding of
difference. It was seen as developing concurrently with an understanding of others but also
enabling that development. The development of international perspectives was therefore
viewed as more of a personal integrative process than a set of ideas and/or skills able to be
transmitted generically - a process requiring considerable effort on the part of students and
particular skills and knowledge on the part of teachers.
THE ROLE OF TEACHERS
All groups interviewed constructed the role of the teacher in the development of international
perspectives in students as being primarily concerned with modifying and adapting the
curriculum. There was, however, variation in the way in which the different groups constructed
this curriculum adaptation.
The Adelaide-based staff highlighted the need for teaching staff to modify and adapt their
teaching style to suit the needs of different groups of students and different cultural contexts
(Hong Kong and Adelaide). In order to do this they require, of course, quite sophisticated
international perspectives themselves. Students were more concerned with content than
teaching methodology, with the provision of international examples, but they were also
concerned with the teacher’s role in changing the way students think. Students saw the latter
as an important outcome of the development of international perspectives related to personal
growth, respect and tolerance for difference. But it was also related to the ability to operate in
an increasingly globalised and multi-culturally diverse business world and the personal
application of complex perspectives within professional contexts. These perspectives highlight
how important it is that the internationalisation of content is not seen as an end in itself, but
rather as an end to a means – a strategy which will assist learners to become more aware of
their own and others cultures. However awareness is not enough, nor is tolerance and respect.
What students talked about was the ability to actively and effectively engage with cultural
others. Awareness, tolerance and respect are all important enabling factors of engagement,
rather than end-points.
For the local Hong Kong tutors the focus was very much on adapting the curriculum brought by
the Adelaide-based staff to the local Hong Kong context, providing appropriate Hong Kong or
Chinese examples to illustrate principles and theories and working closely with students to
encourage and coax them to change their thinking, to be more open, aware and understanding
of cultural others. Their role was thus constructed as one of ‘cultural translator and mediator’
(Leask 2004). The Adelaide-based staff who travelled to teach in Hong Kong saw their role as
‘teacher in Hong Kong’ as being different from their role as ‘teacher in Adelaide’. In Hong Kong
they were more concerned with coming to terms with the cultural context of the teaching and
learning environment than they were in Adelaide. They were very concerned with the need to
be flexible and creative in their teaching in order to meet the needs of the culturally challenging
learning environment in Hong Kong. And while this was also a concern in Adelaide due to
increasing diversity in the student population it was less of a concern than in Hong Kong. This
is more akin to ‘contextualisation’ than ‘internationalisation’ – adapting content and teaching
style to fit the local context, making it relevant and understandable to students, rather than
internationalisation of the curriculum.
THE ROLE OF STUDENTS
Both staff and students interviewed for the Adelaide case study saw all students, international
and domestic, as needing to develop their international perspectives and international students
as able to contribute positively to this process. All students from other cultural backgrounds,
whether they were enrolled in a program taught in Adelaide or Hong Kong, were also seen as
being able to assist staff to develop their own international perspectives, although much more
effort was put into this when staff were teaching in Hong Kong than when they were teaching in
Adelaide. Cultural diversity within the student body was thus seen as a valuable resource for
internationalisation of the curriculum. It was also, however, seen as requiring effort and
planning in order for the benefit to be realised.
THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERCULTURAL ENGAGEMENT
Academic staff believed strongly that they had learned a great deal from their teaching in Hong
Kong, that it had transformed them in some way and this was a significant part of this
experience. All said that teaching in Hong Kong had helped them to develop their own
international perspectives, both personally and within the discipline, as they were able to learn
from students. However this was a process that had required considerable personal effort to
deliberately create intercultural learning opportunities for themselves within and outside class.
Academic staff based in Adelaide and travelling to Hong Kong to teach are the cultural
outsiders in the offshore location. They are thus in a similar position to international students on
exchange in another country—they are strangers, foreigners, in the host culture. As for some
international students, for some teachers it is the first time that their own ‘taken for granted
culture becomes visible to them or they realise that other people hold stereotypes and
prejudices about them’ (Stier 2003, p. 80). The imperative to work towards intercultural
understanding in this situation is very strong. The interviews with Adelaide-based staff teaching
in Hong Kong indicated that teaching offshore is both an intellectual challenge and an
emotional journey, one which requires academic staff, as strangers in a strange land, to come
to terms with the perceptions that staff and students in Hong Kong have of them, with the
differences and similarities between Hong Kong and Adelaide that confront them and
challenge their stereotypes and prejudices, and which can lead to feelings of frustration,
confusion and disorientation. It was also a process for which there was no professional or
‘workload’ recognition and for which they felt unprepared.
Intercultural competence, the ‘understandings, competencies, attitudes, language proficiencies,
participation and identities necessary for successful cross-cultural engagement’ (Heyward
2002, p. 10) is a recurring theme in the discourses of internationalisation in higher education.
Definitions of internationalisation in higher education have repeatedly emphasised the
intercultural. The preparation of ‘faculty, staff and students to function in an international and
intercultural context’ (Knight and de Wit 1995), the process of integration of ‘an international,
intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions or delivery of postsecondary
education’ (Knight 2003) stress the ‘intercultural’ as an important part of internationalisation.
The descriptions that academic staff gave of their learning experiences in Hong Kong were
descriptions of dynamic intercultural learning – processes and activities which developed their
skills, knowledge and attitudes and assisted them to relate, interact and function interculturally.
They then transferred their learning to their teaching in Adelaide, their intercultural learning
‘there’ thus enriching their teaching ‘here’, ‘at home’. This strong theme of teacher as
intercultural learner and, related to this, the need for teachers to be flexible and adaptable to
new cultural environments as higher education itself becomes increasingly ‘globalised’, has
implications for staff induction and professional development.
Intercultural learning and internationalisation of the curriculum
Intercultural learning is clearly an important part of internationalisation of the curriculum in any
context. Knight (2003) describes the intercultural as ‘relating to the diversity of cultures that
exist within countries, communities, and institutions’. Intercultural engagement and learning is
not, however, an easy thing to achieve. As Paige (Paige 1993, p. 1) points out, ‘professional
intercultural educators know that communicating and interacting with culturally different others
is psychologically intense’ and has several risk factors associated with it, including risk of
embarrassment and risk of failure (p. 13). ‘Intercultural education strives to develop critical
engagement, self-reflection and sensitivity towards any aspect of interaction and
communication between “self” and “others”’ (Papademetre 2003, p. 1). It involves the
development of understandings of how the languages and cultures of others influence their
thoughts, values, actions and feelings, and it is argued that this cannot occur unless we also
understand the ways in which our own language and culture influences our actions, reactions,
values and beliefs. This is complex and challenging and involves students and staff moving
into a ‘third place’ (Lo Bianco, Liddicoat et al. 1999, p. 13), a meeting place between different
cultures where there is recognition of the manifestation of cultural difference, and where equal
and meaningful reconstructive cross-cultural dialogue can occur. This place may be
simultaneously uncomfortable, challenging, enriching and exciting.
However, intercultural learning is often assumed to be an automatic outcome and benefit of
intercultural contact whether that be contact resulting from having a range of cultures together
on campus (AEI 1998, p. 2) and in class. The assumption is that proximity → intercultural
contact → intercultural learning/competence. Given that ‘Australia now has one of the highest
proportions of international students on campus of any country in the world’ (Smart, Volet et al.
2000, p. 9), we would therefore expect there to be high levels of intercultural competence
amongst the university community in Australia. However, research in Australia and overseas
into the interaction and engagement between different cultural groups on campus (Volet and
Ang 1998; Robertson, Lane et al. 2000) does not support the crude proximity → intercultural
contact → intercultural learning/competence equation. If intercultural learning does not occur
automatically as a result of intercultural contact ‘at home’ it is probably therefore unlikely that it
will be an outcome of offshore teaching for either staff or students without strategic
A FRAMEWORK FOR STAFF AND STUDENT DEVELOPMENT
The relationship of international perspectives to ways of thinking and doing is multi-dimensional
and has implications for staff and students, for what is taught and how it is taught, for
professional development and for staff induction.
The development of international perspectives is complex and difficult, exciting and valuable
for staff and students. Their lives are busy. The development of international perspectives in
students requires strategic planning and particular types of support. Staff and students offshore
and onshore will have different needs at different times. The development of international
perspectives needs to be incremental and take account of the dynamic social, educational and
personal contexts within which staff and students work. A conceptual framework for the
development of teaching and learning services to assist the incremental development of
international perspectives in all students and staff is described here. It is built around themes
and sub-themes which emerged from the two case studies. The themes around which
professional development for staff is organised are ‘mirrored’ for student services – and these
services should be provided for all students – international and domestic students. The primary
themes for academic staff development are ‘teacher as intercultural learner’, ‘teaching as an
intercultural conversation’ and ‘teacher as manager of the intercultural learning environment’.
The primary themes for the delivery of services to students are ‘students as intercultural
learners’, ‘learning as an intercultural conversation’ and ‘students as managers of their own
Table 1: A framework for staff and student development of international perspectives
Teaching as an
Teachers as managers
of the intercultural
Strategies for developing
in and out of class
learning goals within your
for intercultural learning
Learning as an
interculturally in and out of
Making the most of
intercultural talk in and out
of class to achieve your
Strategies to get the most
out of group work for
managers of their
Resources for intercultural
across cultures in and out
(staff)/ How will I know
how I’m going? (students)
The framework also identifies nine sub-themes associated with the six primary themes. The
sub-themes provide a conceptual framework for the development of workshops and resources
offered as part of induction, foundational professional development and ongoing professional
development for staff and, for students, workshops and learning support resources for
orientation, for integration into course materials and for continuous and end-point evaluation of
their development of international perspectives. In some instances resources could be ‘stand
alone’ (for example, a Teaching Guide for staff on Strategies for developing intercultural and
international perspectives in and out of class and a Learning Guide for students on the same
topic); in others the focus may be more devolved, such as integration of a range of suggestions
into course booklets for students and a range of Teaching Guides for staff around the sub-
theme of Making the most of intercultural talk in and out of class to achieve your goals. The
framework allows for all staff and all students to be supported in similar ways to achieve
incremental goals. However, the framework is not an end point – evaluation of the
effectiveness of the framework and the strategies which sit within it should be undertaken
regularly and used to review the provision of services to support the development of
international perspectives in all students.
Internationalisation of the curriculum provides challenges and opportunities for both students
and staff. Opportunities for transformational intercultural engagement with cultural others are
abundant in Australian higher education but the challenges are varied and complex. For the
challenges to be met, strategically planned professional development and student services for
all students and staff are needed. Services need to take account of the needs of students and
staff from diverse backgrounds working in diverse contexts and the complexities associated
with moving into a ‘third place’ – a meeting place between cultures, a place of challenge and
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