The great wall of English

Simon Marginson states in International Education as self-formation

“international education is more than a profit-making business. It is an educational and social experience. It is an experience that with immense potential to enrich the lives of all who are touched by it.”  

I wondered who was touched by it, and came up with an answer that we are all touched by international education in one way or another. Whether it’s by being an international student or teacher, a domestic student or teacher, a colleague, a neighbor, a travel agent, the internationally or domestic or the families, friends, neighbours, collegues or other whose lives are touched by the educational experience of the student. Here is the vision I was exposed to in the BCM111 lecture that explores how we are all touched by being an international student.

Following this train of thought is the acknowledgement that globalising education leaves out a large number of people and cultures by the nature of our new global society.

“Internationalism [of education] can have significant benefits, but can also have risks.” “__the risk is that the international opportunities are likely to be unevenly distributed at the national and individual levels, militating against poorer, smaller countries and poorer students [2]. Limited access to higher education sustains social inequality in the world.”(Valiulis and Valiulis 2006)

It seems that the internationalisation of education is only good for some people from certain nations, but has a pretty large and predictable exclusionary factor, as the Valiulis reading indicates, to sustain social inequality.  The cultural competence to be gained by this is  potentially one sided with a culturally imperialist and capitalist end in mind, no matter what us liberal minded art students may perceive the possibilities to be.  It seems that the global education sector is mainly of focus, so that international corporations have enough human capital the service the urban global landscape of the futures rising technical and service needs.

As in our own community here in Australia, those who are most able to access higher education are limited by several factors.  One factor that translates to the international student landscape is literacy.

In 2011 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) reported that 774 million adults lacked basic literacy skills, with over three-quarters of this number coming from only two areas; South-West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.  I will add that over two thirds of this number are women.

It makes sense then that the highest number of student visa holders in Australia last year come from China, India, Vietnam, South-Korea and Nepal (Australian Immigration and Border Protection, 2014), all areas that enjoy relatively high levels of literacy compared to other developing countries.  Many of the countries mentioned also have some opportunity in secondary school to learn English.

The theme of language or more specifically speaking English is a major theme in the success or failure of international students studying in Australia, the United States and the UK.

“Studies indicate that proficiency with English language speaking and writing skills are
vital to international students’ academic performance Li, et al. (2010) observed that, “for those international students whose first language is not English, their proficiency in English plays a crucial role in successfully completing their studies in an English-speaking learning environment” (p. 4).” (Akanwa 2015)

If the success of students in the face of this current internationalised education system is so heavily dependent on their ability to speak, write and learn English so that they can interact with us…true cultural competence seems like it may be a province of those who are truly being forced to become fluent in other peoples cultures, the students.

Additional References

Akanwa, E. E. (2015). “International Students in Western Developed Countries: History, Challenges, and Prospects.” Journal of International Students 5(3): 271-284.

Valiulis, A. V. and D. Valiulis (2006). “The Internationalisation of Higher Education: a Challenge for Universities.” Global Journal of Engineering Education 10(2): 221-228.


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