The Challenges of Internationalization; Inequality and Miscommunication

Written by the group Anonymous Dinosaurs
Risto Koivula, Ganapati Sahoo, Karmen Kapp, Kaarina Aitamurto


Internationalization of higher education and research has certainly enhanced the skills of students and faculties and improved the academic quality of the universities. However, it has also been associated with challenges and risks both on the level of institutions and individuals (Egron-Polak 2014). In this blog text, we address two such challenges and try to provide some solutions.

Inequality as a Challenge for Institutions

Many universities perceive internationalization as a substantial revenue generation mechanism rather than meaningful exchange of academic, humanistic and cultural values. In the process, universities may fall prey to the unnecessary, sometimes unfair, competition instead of productive collaboration. Commodification or commercialization of education may result in functioning of universities as mere degree mills where quality and integrity are at risk of being compromised (Egron-Polak 2014). Therefore, another rising concern in internationalization of higher education is the lack of jurisdiction at home countries over the regulation of the quality of the international programs.

The rise of inequality and marginalization of financially weaker ones in academic world are important concerns as the majority of the international opportunities are accessible only to students with a sound financial background (Huang and Daizen, 2018).

As the universities seek to enhance their reputation through international activities, there is a toll on the other priorities of interest for the academic community. Over emphasis on the fee-paying international students, over use of English in academic activities and incorporation of corporate culture  does not serve the original goal of internationalization to enable students to function as global citizens with sensitivity towards other nations, cultures, languages, and most importantly to different sections of the society (Bedenlier 2015).

Universities from the rich countries are in an advantageous position to benefit considerably more in comparison to their counterparts in developing economies (Huang and Daizen, 2018), and this inequality has even been termed as academic imperialism or academic colonization. Loss of national identity and brain drain pose serious risks to underdeveloped nations. It can also be asked whether developing areas are able to benefit from the research that is done in richer countries.

Acknowledging these challenges and overcoming them will truly enable institutions to reap the real benefits of internationalization while respecting the true spirit of it.

Miscommunication in International Communities: A Challenge or an Opportunity?

A researcher was giving a talk in a conference taking place in Africa. In Western countries, owls are a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. Therefore, the researcher ended his presentation with a “Thank you”-slide and a photo where owls were sitting in a row. When showing the slide, most of the conference guests from Africa became very serious and astonished.

Owls by Jeff Moore

(Photo by Jeff Moore)

After the presentation, it was told to the researcher, that in this particular area of Africa, owl is the symbol of evilness and bad spirits.

In conversations between two individuals, there is always the risk of misunderstanding. This is even more so when the conversation takes place in a multinational research group where the members represent different disciplines and belong to different levels in work hierarchy. Speaking the language (nowadays English instead of Latin in the academic world), mastering the concepts of different disciplines and their unique codes of interaction can easily cause inequalities in the conversation and distort the group dynamics.

In multicultural groups, the difficulties can become multiplied due to the nonverbal communications, which is a big part human communications but can be interpreted completely wrong (Hussain 2018). Overcoming these problems requires competence in intercultural communication (Khazar 2018). This means the ability to recognize the risks of misunderstanding that are caused by the differences in speech, behavior, and body language but also the willingness to modify the one’s speech and behavior according to the situation.

Equal conversation events are necessity for research group to meet its targets, which, in the best case are set by the group but at least, are known and accepted to all group members. To achieve this, all members should feel safe in the conversation and that they and their ideas are accepted equally. This requires active participation and willingness to accept differences between the people and the difficulties that these brings to the conversations. However, overcoming such challenges can also be important learning experiences.

Tips for intercultural communications

  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Don’t ask yes/no questions
  • Be aware of nonverbal communication
  • Avoid idioms, be prepared to explain jokes that do not translate easily


Shafaat Hussain, International Journal of Media, Journalism and Mass Communications (IJMJMC) Volume 4, Issue 2, 2018, PP 44-49

Miramar Khazar, Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences Volume 21 № 1 2018, 68-82 (The advantages and disadvantages of body language in Intercultural communication)

Egron-Polak, E. Internationalization of Higher Education: Converging or Diverging Trends?. International Higher Education, Volume 76, 2014, pp. 7-9.

Huang F., Daizen, T. The benefits and risks of HE internatiobalization. University World News, 2018 (

Bedenlier, S., Zawaki-Richter, O. (2015). Internalization of Higher Education and the Impacts on Academic Faculty Members. Research in Comparative & International Education, 10(2), 185-201.

One Reply to “The Challenges of Internationalization; Inequality and Miscommunication”

  1. I would like to add a thought that Marita Kervinen (SETA) gave in a seminar. She said: “I’m not going to say don’t assume (the gender, ethinity etc.), since we are all going to assume all the time anyway. I will say: when you assume, assume diversity.”

    To me this works with any kind of diversity: it adds to inclusivity if we take diversity as a starting point instead of seeing it as an exception.

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