The future of internationalisation

What does Internationalisation in higher education mean?

Pitching on the definition of Internationalisation in higher education given by the European Parliament which states that Internationalisation is “the intentional process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education, in order to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff, and to make a meaningful contribution to society”, we could claim that Internationalisation is the tendency of Higher Music Education Institutions (HMEIs) to deepen their international activities systematically.

Commitment to internationalisation as a tool for development is one of the fundamental strategic values of internationalisation and it also relates to institutional quality enhancement. Conservatoires often use their international profile as an expression of quality and excellence, but what does this really mean? Do international students really improve our quality? How? How do we engage with each other in the debate on quality at international level? The implementation of international examiners and the development of the curriculum through joint programmes and joint modules could be key tools to use internationalisation for quality enhancement and development?

Digging deep into the various perspectives of Internationalisation we can unveil the fundamental impact of internationalisation on the cross – cultural environment we live in. So we should ask ourselves how can we properly address challenges arising from a cross – cultural environment such as differences in language, lifestyle, attitudes, customs and religion, where a cultural miscommunication could jeopardise a culturally – value mindset or behaviour?

Addressing the challenges

First, adaptability considered as one of the core competencies in the frame of internationalisation of Higher Music Education Institutions. Interpreting unfamiliar verbal and nonverbal cues accurately and adapting behaviour to cultural norms and expectations is of great importance. In addition, improving situational judgement in cross – cultural settings and effectively managing culturally – diverse populations within the institutions would facilitate to implement a global mindset for cultural adjustment and sensitivity.  All the above could potentially enhance the work of all stakeholders within the academia.

There’s a clear shift of focus from mobility to how internationalisation can improve the core business of Conservatoires. The introduction of Strategic Partnerships in the Erasmus+ programme was another clear signal that the focus of modern higher education institutions should now be on developing new content and tools for education instead of just bringing students and teachers together. The Strategic Partnership projects presented in Birmingham all aim at the development of top-quality international study programmes in which institutions share expertise and resources.

Meaning of international dimension

This perspective changes the meaning of “international dimension”: if this term was once linked to having students and teachers coming from other countries, nowadays this term can be associated with institutions engaged in an intense exchange of persons as well as ideas with institutions in other countries by exchanging students rather than just recruiting them; by engaging in joint curriculum development at European level; or by using international tools in institutional quality assurance policies.

During the annual meeting of International Relations Coordinators in Birmingham in September 2018, was agreed that the international dimension isn’t an optional feature of the learning experience anymore but has become a key factor for a successful career and the development of a mindful global citizenship. Accordingly, the focus of internationalisation in higher music education institutions needs to shift towards the curriculum. The curriculum connects the broader institutional strategy with the student experience, thus playing a paramount role in the success or failure of the institution’s internationalisation agenda as well as on the global employment opportunities of future professional musicians

The presence of international students and teachers and the use of international tools for review and accreditation procedures and international external examiners have been considered as one of the most precious international tool for the development of institutions; outgoing mobility opportunities can be used in a complementary way, as a tool for professional and personal profile enhancement. In fact, following the general higher education trend, also HMEIs are increasingly paying more attention to the “internationalisation at home”.

Digital tools

As stated by the European Association of International Education (EAIE), “internationalisation at home touches upon everything – from the academic curriculum, to the interactions between local students and international students and faculty, to the cultivation of internationally-focused research topics, to innovative uses for digital technology. Most importantly, it focuses on all students reaping the benefits of international higher education, not just those who are mobile”. This shift of focus from ‘abroad’ to ‘at home’ is becoming increasingly popular also thanks to the use of improved and fast-growing distance learning technologies (i.e. Lola, Polycom). The establishment of virtual learning environments made virtual and blended mobility (the latter being a combination of virtual mobility and short-stay physical mobility) possible.

Virtual and blended mobility can therefore play an important role in reaching the Bologna objectives (international competitiveness, mobility, employability) in a cost-effective and innovative way and can be used to target specific learning and teaching goals. This technological shift has also an impact on pedagogical models, encouraging institutions to adapt and further develop them around new available technologies. This is the reason why the Association Européenne des Conservatoires, Académies de Musique et Musikhochschulen (AEC),  which is a European cultural and educational network, has deployed the International Relations Coordinators Working Group (IRCs WG) to, among others, monitor and further develop digital tools supporting the management of study and working mobility of staff and students: the AEC Job Vacancy Platform, the AEC Website Database and EASY – the European Online Application System for Mobility among Higher Music Education Institutions.

The progressive digitisation of the sector is therefore touching both pedagogical and managerial aspects, but the latter has been announced by the European Commission as one of the main features of the next generation of funding in the field of education through the campaign “Erasmus Goes Digital”, and therefore deserves special attention by the AEC and the IRCs community. In February 2020, members of the IRCs WG will be present to “The Erasmus Goes Digital” conference which will take place at the Belval Campus of the University of Luxembourg and will focus on illustrating the impact of Online Learning Agreement, Erasmus Without Paper, and the European Student Card Initiative on the Erasmus+ mobility. We will elaborate on it in the near future.

The role of International Relations Coordinators

In conclusion, we strongly believe that International Relations Coordinators (IRCs) add value, formulate and contribute to the achievement of the mission and vision of HMEIs. IRCs act as intellectual, emotional and social capital by holding the significant role of forging relationships among the multifaceted community of HMEI. To wrap it up, International Relations Coordinators are agents of continuous transformation.

Stitching all the above together we could claim that strengthening music in society could be only achieved by empowering the role of IRCs within the community.

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