The internationalization of higher education has been on a fairly linear upward trajectory (at least until 2019 – data for the pandemic period isn’t fully available and it’s too soon to see whether travel and other disruptions will have a long-term effect). That means more students going abroad for all or part of their programmes, increased international research collaborations and internationally co-authored publications, greater international dimensions added to the curriculum, and more institutions and governments publishing strategies to manage and coordinate their international activities.
But what about countries recovering from conflict? What significance does international activity have in higher education when the pressing challenges are domestic – including loss of life, psychosocial effects on students and staff, campus and infrastructure damage, and reduced public funding?
And what about countries that have not only experienced conflict but which before the conflict were relatively isolated from the international academic community?
It was with these questions in mind that Hayfa Jafar and I began to explore the role of higher education internationalization in two post-conflict settings at the heart of our academic research: Iraq and Tajikistan. Brought together by mutual interests in internationalization and the shared (post)conflict contexts, we were able to draw from interviews that we undertook during our PhD fieldwork to build a study that compares the experiences of faculty members in these two countries.
Focusing on faculty experiences was a logical choice for us: on the one hand, in-depth interviews with this group is a methodology we both used in our thesis research. On the other hand, and more importantly, presenting the perspectives of faculty members highlights the ways that internationalization is intepreted and practiced at grassroots level. This paints quite a different picture from “official” narratives such as government programs or institutional policies.
From the 25 interviews in the two countries, we identified four main themes:
- Bridging the gap created by conflict
- Rconnecting with the world
- Importing prestige
- Integrating into the international academic community
Overall, we found that most respondents saw higher education internationalization processes in a positive light, despite simultaneously recognizing that national political and economic factors are constraining how these processes develop.
The results of our work have recently been published open access in the Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education with a preview of the abstract below.
The journey behind this article has been a long one. From our first discussions in 2017 to various conference presentations and with the paper evolving through several journals’ peer review process, both Hayfa and I are delighted to see the publication finally come to light.
Our own journeys have also progressed: we have both since completed our PhDs and Hayfa is now working at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani and I’m at UNESCO IESALC.
Happy reading – please share widely and let us know what you think.