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.

Is being international problematic for sustainability?

by team INSUS – Internationalising Sustainability


This blog entry primarily touches upon the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs;

Sustainablity goals

Joint master programmes and international projects as a source of emissions

Apart from being a massive industry, business travel and tourism – also in the form of e.g. conferences and symposia globally – form a vivid part of researcher and student academic life and professional development. Face to face is the most engaging way for collaboration and meaningful discussions, but travel, in particular air travel, creates emissions. Often, due to lack of time or lack of funds, the choice of transport are still airplanes. However, the overall impact on e.g. biodiversity of different modes of travel is not completely straightforward, and for instance train travel (high-speed rails in particular) should be considered also in terms of the whole infrastructure needed for its construction and maintenance (Cornet, Dudley & Banister, 2018).

Recently, joint masters programmes have become increasingly common. For example, the Erasmus Mundus programmes have funded and continue funding prestigious double degrees, where students spend a part of their studies at different universities. These programmes aim to further the integration of European higher education (Papatsiba, 2014), but also necessitate travel between sites involved. As joined programs have been created for the goals of integration and cooperation, the sustainability of the modes of work have rarely been addressed.

Certain kinds of technological, digital solutions are needed to make joint programmes and inter-university learning modules communicatively meaningful and authentic. For instance, one member of our team has an EU-funded, EIT project where learning modules in circular economy are created and shared between technical universities in 5 European countries. Already at the planning phases of the project in 2018, the intent was to find new ways that enable student interaction without the (obviously hard-to-fulfill) need to fly between the participating countries, north and south. As part of the solution, Virtual and Mixed Realities (VR, MR) were considered (Sandström et al., 2020). However, even in a situation where multi-player VR is nowadays possible as such, the resources required for setting it up for the course purposes are often lacking or scarce.

Recently, some foundations have started to give grants to support the extra costs of sustainable modes of travel, but is travel always necessary? It is not simple deciding what the solution in terms of travel during a course should be.

Being international locally

The University of Helsinki includes over twenty foreign languages in the BA degree programs. In this regard, the Department of Languages could be viewed as a small whole world within a university in Helsinki, as teaching a variety of languages used by both large and tiny populations in all the continents. Learning a foreign language brings its culture and society to the learner’s mind, so that the education may yield a global citizen who is capable to handle sustainability issues in a multicultural context, being active online at home, with more communicative attitude. Lack of communication, especially on global level, could cause prejudice which might be developed to form a nationalism. Cliffon & Haigh (2018) states that “education helps learners recognize that humans are stronger and happier when they work together.” Foreign language education at a local institute may enhance international cooperation and collaboration, interdependence, diversity, cultural tolerance, etc. by equipping the learners with linguistic and socio-cultural capacity.

The value of local knowledge and traditions

As such, sustainability is often perceived as being universal for any country setting. In practice, the definition is sufficiently open to be flexibly adopted to the local needs and contexts.  The challenge is to integrate and translate this flexibility into education, especially in the joint master’s programmes, where students are exposed to the teaching from multiple country settings. Often, the dominant view of sustainability is the vision inspired by Western standards of living, corresponding challenges of wealthier lifestyles and solutions via more sustainable production of more sustainable goods. But in many locations around the world aside technology and product innovations, there exist many everyday practices inspired by the local environment, traditional knowledge and frugal thinking. For example, Vergara et al. (2016) measure the informal traditional reuse of textiles in Bogota, Colombia and estimate it to be much more efficient in terms of reduced GHG emissions as compared to formal recycling or landfilling. Learning about such local practices is equally valuable for advancing sustainability, and learning about them is of great importance not only for promoting environmental sustainability, but also supporting the cultural dimension of sustainability, and contributing to social equity by considering how these traditional practices could be integrated to national economies.

Consider the international programme as a change maker?

One way of approaching the teaching and learning modules is to use three perspectives: systemic, socio-cultural, and longevity. The module could be seen a process and an outcome – a product. Transforming the modules and, eventually, the programme so that it is based on not only user-centric but planet-centric principles, can be achieved through certain steps. The content of the steps can be negotiated locally and glocally, and used as learning tasks in the programme.

Some guidelines towards planet-centric outcomes and processes might be the following (see

  • Align the programme goals, where possible, with the SDGs
  • Design the goals with the institutions involved, in a planet-centric way
  • Test and iterate the approaches to improve the programme over time
  • Evaluate and create a road map for the micro goals, making progress visible and understandable

Setting actionable, accessible and understandable micro goals whose fulfillment can be measured and evaluated makes the task more feasible. The action points should also be geared toward building and communicating a vision for sustainability, the core elements of which are embedded in the participating organisations’ strategies and missions. Internationalising sustainability starts with the participants, the owners of the intellectual property of the learning modules.


Cliffon & Haigh 2018: Internationalisation of the curriculum comes of age –

Cornet, Y., Dudley, G., Banister, D., 2018. High speed rail: Implications for carbon emissions and biodiversity. Case Stud. Transp. Policy 6 (3), 376–390.

Papatsiba, V. Policy Goals of European Integration and Competitiveness in Academic Collaborations: An Examination of Joint Master’s and Erasmus Mundus Programmes. High Educ Policy 27, 43–64 (2014).

Sandström, N., Nevgi, A., Betten, T., Balkenende, A.R., Danese, P., Danese, Graf, R., Grönman, K., Holopainen, J. & Olsen, S.I. (2020). Excellence in education requires excellence in collaboration: learning modules in circular economy as platforms for transdisciplinary learning. A paper accepted to be presented at the 10th Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD2020), University of Cork, Ireland.

Vergara, S.E., Damgaard, A., Gomez, D., 2016. The Efficiency of Informality: Quantifying GHG Reductions from Informal Recycling in Colombia. Journal of Industrial Ecology 20 (1), 107-119.


Online sources

Planet-Centric design:

United Nations Sustainable Development:


Internationalization drives the individuals and institutions to achieve their best

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


Internationalisation of higher education and research is a growing phenomenon with increasing global interdependence (de Wit, 2020). Integrating international languages and intercultural aspects into the teaching, research and services of the university has become not only necessary but also unavoidable to a certain degree. Even though internationalisation of higher education brings additional tasks for the existing systems, the benefits certainly outweigh the challenges. Keeping a positive approach to this process would help us achieve a leader position in current globalized society. Here we look at the benefits of internationalization from perspectives of development of personnel, research activities and cultural awareness in the community at the universities.


The thirst of knowledge and joy and excitement of finding something new has been a major driver for human evolution. Accepting the differences, e.g., in customs, tradition and appearance enables a safe place for interaction – essential for equal intercommunication.

Taking cultural differences into a daily life of a research group enriches thought patterns of solving problems and gives a variety of paths to fulfil the research goal.

Slow is faster – the slightly slower communication between groups members was in fact faster when examined in terms of meeting the research goals. Reasons for this may be found in communication strategies that favour interactive strategies (asking questions, self-disclosure) between intercultural communications since passive strategies (observation) (Berger, 1975)  may lead to false interpretation based to cultural differences, for example, different meanings of looking in the eyes during discourse.

No longer one can take things for granted when working in a multicultural environment. This puts one in a position where more thinking, i.e., time is consumed in the communication that in turn makes it more precise and usually allows more equality between the parties.

Knowing and sharing the common goal of the research group is of course the cornerstone of successful group dynamics. To understand and to affect these issues explicit communication is essential in creating an atmosphere of trust, self-assurance and equality, i.e., a perfect platform for success.


Present and future of scientific research heavily relies on collaboration among multiple international resources. In such a scenario, adapting to internationalization in a research work environment is as beneficial as it is essential.

Academic exchanges among universities and international collaborations strengthens the ties among countries. It provides international education experience to both domestic and foreign students and expands their academic mobility and enhances network building capability to establish future collaborations (Delgado-Marquez et al. 2011; Jibeen and Khan, 2015).

Internationalization is a key aspect in the development of the faculty and students at higher education institutes. While it attracts the best minds, resulting in a better educational environment and higher academic quality, it also partly opens up an additional revenue generation opportunity for the universities not only by running international degree programs but also because the international oriented staff is more likely to receive grants from different international funding programs (Bedenlier and Zawaki-Richter, 2015).

Internationalization of research groups enables members to have access to novel research materials such as articles, patents in diverse languages (Bedenlier and Zawaki-Richter, 2015). It also allows members to work in international laboratories, use data from different experimental facilities and most importantly, to join the effort in addressing problems of global interest.

In regular operations of the research groups the asset of many different working cultures at disposal is a significant advantage. Many situations generate different kinds of responses from which the best practices could be withdrawn.

Working in international groups facilitates students to improve their skills and perspectives, fosters them in growing as a scholar with wider vision and enables them to cater to the global needs and issues.

Culture and social life

In Universities, the lingua franca in international collectives is usually English (Lau and Lin, 2017; de Wit, 2020) and it can be asked whether academic communities often present a kind of bubbles, separate from the society.  However, having other international colleagues in the collective may provide peer support for learning the new language and for integrating to the new society (Bedenlier and Zawaki-Richter, 2015). Cultural diversity also creates an inclusive atmosphere where individuals feel that they are accepted as they are.

Working or studying abroad undoubtedly provides new perspectives for people, but so does working or studying in international collectives in one’s home country. These introduce people to alternative ways of thinking, interaction and doing things (Delgado-Marquez et al. 2011). Learning from other cultures and becoming familiar with new customs allows people to reflect their own habits, values and norms from a new angle. Thus, the international environment has a great potential to make one more open-minded and accustomed to adapt to different environments. In consequence, international collectives prepare students also for working abroad and for international careers.



de Wit, H. (2020). Internationalization of Higher Education. Journal of International Students, 10(1), i-iv. Retrieved from:

Lau K.; Lin, C.-Y. (2017). Internationalization of Higher Education and language Policy: the case of bilingual university in Taiwan. Higher Education, 74: 437-454. Retrieved from:

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. Retrieved from:

Jibeen, T.; Khan, M. A. (2015).  Internalization of Higher Education: Potential Benefits and Costs. International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, 4(4): 196-199. Retrieved from:

Delgado-Marquez, B. L.; Hurtado-Torres, N. E.; Bondar, Y. (2011). Internationalization of Higher Education: Theoretical and Empirical Investigation of Its Influence on University Institution Rankings”. In: “Globalisation and Internationalisation of Higher Education” [online monograph]. Revista e Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC). Vol. 8, No 2, pp. 265-284. Retrieved from:

Berger, C. R.; Calabrese, R. J. (1975). “Some Exploration in Initial Interaction and Beyond: Toward a Developmental Theory of Communication”. Human Communication Research. 1 (2): 99–112. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.1975.tb00258.x.

Multilingual co-teaching is time consuming, but well worth the time!

Written by Anne Duplouy, Juha Eskelinen, Riikka Keto-Timonen, and Hanna Koivula


Universities and their teaching staff are required to internationalize their teaching in order to future proof themselves and their graduates. In the future, the world, and the Finnish society especially, will need more professionals who can co-operatively tackle complex, multi-disciplinary problems using good communication and language skills (Jalkanen 2017; Räsänen and Taalas 2010). The classic teaching format often puts the workload on single university teachers, however, teamwork in multilingual settings is increasingly observed. The expected benefits from co-teaching, or teaching in teams, are however still rarely obvious to anyone.

The student perspective

Who, as a student, has not felt lost during their first lectures provided in a foreign language? The average reading speed in a non-native language is slower (Frazer 2007), as we struggle for understanding both the content of a text and the structure of the new language. Using two (or more) teachers and languages during classes could then appear as another challenge doomed to reduce chances of a successful learning experience. But in fact, multilingual teaching has more than one potential advantage:

    • Multilingual teaching in multi-lingual learning groups increases the feeling of belonging to a community, which has been shown to improve peer collaboration, cooperation and learning outcome in students (Krulatz & Iversen 2019).
    • Multilingual teaching supports the development of the students’ ability to work in an international setting, raise their awareness of the diversity around them, and the challenges associated to it. Students that attend multilingual studies through Erasmus+ Exchange programs find participation “enriching academically, socially, personally, and in terms of the development of employability” (Erasmus 2019). There is high demand in Finland for people who can work with the multilingual communities or sectors of their own profession, further suggesting that students with international experience could be favoured during recruitment. In certain fields, such as medicine, the ability to communicate in both native and foreign languages is an important working life skill (Hull 2016), and multilingual teaching will support learning of professional terminology in several languages.

The institutional perspective

It is a common conception that a course organized by two teachers would increase the costs (in time and money) allocated to the course for the institution. It implies the institution will have to provide for two salaries for the same amount taught by one teacher. But does it really? A multilingual course involving teachers of different background and experience, does not necessarily increase general teaching costs:

    • Multilingual teaching improves students’ academic performance (Rubio-Alcalá et al. 2019) and if a student receives guidance in a familiar language, the student is more likely to complete the course and thus speed up the graduation as well.
    • Multilingual teaching could also be implemented as a joint virtual teaching of two different universities at two different countries and the connections between teachers could give rise to new research collaboration. A wide range of multilingual courses can also attract more tuition fee paying international students to the university.

Universities are committed to internationalization but many stakeholders still consider that universities have important role in preserving national language (Soler et al. 2018). Multilingual teaching would support both of these goals.

The teacher perspective

In co-teaching, teachers need to coordinate the content and practical work for their course. This coordination requires proper planning and frequent communication both before and during the course. But here again, what can at first appear as a tiring, ambitious and time demanding work task, is more likely to become, with a bit of organization, a pleasant, enriching and time-saving experience:

    • Co-ordination and planning are time well spent. In a multilingual team, teachers can teach in their native language, which they are fluent in. With this strategy, new staff can integrate more easily into a programme when part of a co-teaching team working on a course content.
    • Academia also relies heavily on individuals and there is seldom a plan for shorter or longer absences that would prevent a sudden loss of teaching quality and learning opportunities. Co-teaching increases the resilience of a programme. When multiple teachers are involved, they can take over from each other for short absences, e.g. sick leave or attending a conference. Through interaction and shared experience skills and methods can be shared and learned as we observe a colleague in action (Nonaka 1994: 19). Similarly, when a colleague retires, their tacit knowledge on a topic could fully disappear, while a co-teacher could retain some if not all of it in the programme.
    • Other Important benefits of co-teaching include labour division and peer-support. One teacher might excel as a coordinator, another masters Moodle or is a video wiz. Additionally, the equitable repartition of co-teaching tasks can enable efficient use of the time for each member, which can be redirected towards research, or other intensive tasks during a busy semester.

So why not challenge yourself?

Universities embrace the culture of experimentation in research, maybe teaching should reflect it too. The next time a new course is planned, or the structure of a program is revamped, give it a go, and suggest the creation of a teaching team, which will use the available languages. The lessons that will be learned from such experimentation might just lead to greater good for all parties involved.


Erasmus+ higher education impact study (2019). Publications Office of the EU. []

Fraser, C. (2007). Reading rate in L1 Mandarin Chinese and L2 English across five reading tasks. The Modern Language Journal, 91: 372–394.

Hull, M. (2016) Medical language proficiency: A discussion of interprofessional language competencies and potential for patient risk. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 54: 158-172.

Jalkanen, J. (2017). Monikielistä pedagogiikkaa yliopiston viestintä- ja kieliopinnoissa [Multilingual pedagogy in university level language and communication teaching]. Kieli, koulutus ja yhteiskunta, 8(5).


Krulatz, A. & Iversen, J. (2019) Building inclusive language classroom spaces through multilingual writing practices for newly-arrived students in Norway. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 64: 372-388.

Nonaka, I. (1994). A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation. The Organization Science, Vol. 5, No. 1: 14-37

Rubio-Alcalá, F.D., Arco-Tirado, J.L., Fernández-Martín, F.D., López-Lechuga, R., Barrios, E. & Pavón-Vázquez, V. (2019) A systematic review on evidences supporting quality indicators of bilingual, plurilingual and multilingual programs in higher education. Educucational Research Review. 27: 191-204.

Räsänen, A. & Taalas, P. (2010). Työelämässä ei pärjää ilman monipuolisia kommunikointi- ja kulttuuritaitoja – miten Jyväskylän yliopiston kielikeskus vastaa näihin haasteisiin? Kieli, koulutus ja yhteiskunta, 1(8). Saatavilla:

Soler, J., Björkman, B. & Kuteeva, M. (2018) University language policies in Estonia and Sweden: exploring the interplay between English and national languages in higher education. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 39: 29-43.

Uncovering the reasons for internationalisation of education at UH 

Written by the group Punavihreät

Promoting internationalisation of education has been one of the main goals of UH during the past years and to serve this purpose the University has renewed its Master’s and doctoral programmes. This has led to large-scale curriculum reforms, but at the same time there has been surprisingly little discussion about the reasons why internationalisation of education is important at UH.

We made a search to uncover these reasons. First, we learned that UH has no separate unit or action plan for international affairs, but integrates internationalisation into all its operations, including teaching. For example, the European Association for International Education EAIE granted the UH with an award for its efforts in mainstreaming internationalisation in 2013.1

We also learned that UH is a part of a unique alliance, UNA Europa, which consists of eight European universities. The aim of the alliance is to create a university of Europe, with initiatives seeking to broaden collaboration between the members. Collaboration consists of for example future joint Bachelor and Doctorate degrees. This again dates back to the Bologna process in 1999 when European education systems were transformed to be more comparable.2

Internationalisation can also be seen as an integral a part of UH’s language policy. It is stated that by formulating a policy, UH meets the challenges that internationalisation brings. By strengthening the role of English, UH is expected to become an attractive destination to both international students as well teachers and researchers.3

Furthermore, UH has published a global impact brochure that includes goals for internationalisation as a global university 2017-2020.4 The brochure frames internationalisation as a task and positive challenge for everyone at UH and provides some reasons for internationalisation of education. These reasons are in line with the goals set for internationalisation by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.The reasons given were that the internationalisation of education

(1) improves student experience and provide opportunities for innovative learning,

(2) brings together people from different backgrounds to enrich teaching and learning,

(3) offers attractive employability skills needed in the global job markets,

(4) attracts the best students from all over the world,

(5) enhances UH global profile.

To sum up, the efforts taken strive to the idea of not only UH but also Finland to become more attracting internationally in general. It should be noted that internationalisation itself is not a goal, but it is a means to increase quality.

However, these reasons provide no answer to “how” questions we had in mind: How does internationalisation of education enrich teaching and learning, attract the best students, improve experiences or enhance the UH’s profile? Can UH reach these goals just by focusing on quantitative results, i.e. having an increasing number of students from abroad and sending our students abroad?

It also seems that what is missing is reciprocity. Finland has a world-renowned education system. Should we also be focusing on what Finland has to offer instead of becoming more international, more “European”?


1 University of Helsinki/News/News and press releases: University awar­ded for in­ter­na­tion­al­isa­tion.

2 UNA Europa.

3 Helsingin yliopiston kieliperiaatteet.

4 University of Helsinki: Global impact brochure.

5 Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö. Yhteistyössä maailman parasta. Suomalaisen korkeakoulutuksen ja tutkimuksen kansainvälisyyden edistämisen linjaukset 2017–2025.