A great deal of university teachers enjoy or have enjoyed a teaching or research stage at another university at some point of their academic career, either as doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers or tenured scholars. In some countries (like Spain), a research stay of minimum three months, preferably in a foreign university, is a mandatory requirement to achieve tenure. In a world of quite uncomplicated mobility and rapid connectivity, being involved in an international research stage has become a popular form of academic development, although for most academics it is as much of a personal achievement as a professional need. International exchange among academics contributes to the internationalisation of higher education, but what do they learn from the experience? What does the host institution earn out of it? And what about the home university? In this reflection paper, I would like to draw on the implications of an international academics’ stage abroad (for the host university, the visiting scholar and the home university), and refer to the importance of developing academic’s global competencies in today’s higher education institutions (HEI).
For the host university, an important endeavour is to plan the process of reception, welcoming and socialization of the new member. The process of reception from the administrative and academic staff starts before the academic moves in. Once at the institution, some visitors require personal assistance from administrative staff to arrange formal documentation or even to settle down. The head of the research group, the head of the department or institute, a senior member or another peer acting as a referee or mentor accompanies the new member throughout the new tasks and endeavours while engages the teacher or researcher formally and informally in the some of the daily routines of the institution. A common understanding in terms of language and a willingness to engage in other teaching and research approaches is of upmost importance to have a unique experience. Without doubt, the administrative and academic staffs of the host university devote an exceptional dedication to secure the conditions for a good international experience. Given these circumstances, an effective socialization will take place when the international academic encompasses an attitude of openness and respect, offers his/her availability to share knowledge and contribute to building on new research or teaching projects, and is willing to attend and participate, if invited and when doable, in the agenda of formative and informative activities as well as in other informal collective gatherings.
The interests and motives of academics to carry out a research or teaching stage in a foreign university are very diverse. It might well be that the main reason is purely an accomplishment of the home university’s promotion requirements. However, for the majority of candidates, it is more of a necessity of an extraordinary personal and professional formative experience. From time to time, academics need to be inspired by other teaching, learning and/or research cultures, learn or improve different research or teaching methods, deepen theoretical or practical knowledge from academic experts, use infrastructure or resources not accessible in their home countries, meet new academics to increase research networks, design and/or develop new teaching or research projects, etc. In particular, for doctoral students, it might be a matter of professional development; for postdoctoral researchers, an intrinsic interest on gaining new teaching and research insights, and for experienced academics, an opportunity to foster collegial approaches to education, research and partnership that transcend national boundaries; and in all cases, it is a matter of intellectual health. At the same time, it is the perfect occasion to live in another country, speak or learn a different language and develop a “global mindset”, understood as the capacity for appreciating elements of different cultures and the readiness to learn new socio-cultural, economic and political conception of the world. In all cases, it is a social and personal competence growth which entails the development of global or international competences.
Understanding international interaction is essential for universities to work effectively in today’s global environment. The level of this understanding is related to possession of international competences (Gupta and Govindarajan, 2002). “International or global competences” can be understood as the dispositional ability to efficiently act in complex international situations. Global competences are seen as those universal qualities that enable academics to perform their job outside their own national as well as organizational culture, no matter what their educational or ethnical background is, what functional area their job description represents, or what university they come from. In that regard, global academics can be anyone having global responsibility over any teaching and research activity and a global mindset embedding their academic activities.
The development of international competences depends on the academics’ personal abilities, capabilities, previous knowledge and experiences, but also can be determined by the host institution’s learning environment, the induction strategies and the learning opportunities offered. International experiences abroad offer innumerable formal and informal experiences to trigger democratic global competences when they are based on active learning and experience making.
With the aim of further develop internationalization in higher education, HEI should be more aware of the values provided by internationally-competent academics and their potential impact on developing global education and research approaches. Internationally-competent academics can play an important role in graduate preparedness for a global and inclusive society. As stated by Badley (2000), “globally-competent university teachers not only have to see themselves as academically and pedagogically competent but also to take on the role of democratic global citizens with all of the risks, rights and duties entailed” (p.246). The challenge for the international academic is to transfer these competences into the research and teaching practice and be able to assess their impact on the institution’s international culture and curricula, and on the students’ performance and behavior. It is proposed that more scientific evidence should be gathered to measure the impact of academics’ international collaboration on their professional development, on their research projects, on their teaching and learning approaches, on the university’s curriculum, and on their students’ development of international, inclusive and democratic mindset and competences.
- Badley, G. (2000). Developing Globally-Competent University Teachers, Innovations in Education & Training International, 37:3, 244-253.
- Gupta, A.K., & Govindarajan, V. (2002). Cultivating a global mindset. Academy of Management Executive. 16, 1: 116-126
Mònica Feixas (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)_____________________________________________________________________
This paper is my dedicated tribute to the administrative and academic staffs at IWP, and specially the director of the institute, Prof. Dr. Dieter Euler, who made possible my research stay at University of St. Gallen. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of an exceptional team in a fantastic setting with a great atmosphere and for the nice reception, welcoming and socialisation during my first academic year in Switzerland.