In the context of rapidly expanding international student recruitment and attention on internationalisation of the curriculum, the question of how we teach international students has become more urgent. We aimed to explore what the literature and academic staff say about how we teach and conceptualise international students in UK higher education.
Study 1: Systematic Literature Review
We systematically reviewed empirical journal articles on specific pedagogical practices for and with international students in the UK from 2013-2019. 49 studies met our inclusion criteria, and we identified 12 distinct categories, with 26 specific practices. On this basis, synthesis of evidence was challenging, as the literature is disparate and often methodologically limited with a persistent deficit discourse framing international students as ‘lacking’ or ‘challenging’.
Study 2: Interviews with Lecturing Staff
We conducted 45 semi-structured online interviews with academic staff with current teaching roles at a range of UK institutions, including universities from across the sector and country, targeting a varied profile of staff across disciplines. Qualitative template analysis indicates that participants were broadly positive and enthusiastic about teaching international students and appreciated the complexity of individual experiences. However, some residual tendency to
explain behaviours by national stereotypes crept in, as did a recurring deficit narrative. We suggest these are dominant discourses, hard for even critical individuals to separate themselves from. Participants drew a picture of interactive teaching that structures learning from diversity, based on a ‘safe space’ in the classroom and deriving from empathy and compassion for challenges, as well as from an overarching commitment to inclusive education. They used technology, alternative assessments and focused on skills to drive this. Participants also reflected on the challenges and potential of emergency remote learning during COVID-19 national lockdowns to shape their pedagogy in the future.
Though both studies had their limitations in scope, we drew a picture of attitudes and practices of the sector at this point. While practices broadly reflect widely held notions of ‘good teaching’, they do not engage as critically with the epistemic challenges of decolonisation as they might. Future innovations in critical pedagogies of internationalisation are hampered by disparate literature within which it is difficult to identify clear case studies as guidance for action, and teachers are not incentivised by the sector and institutions to invest in their pedagogy. For this promising area of research to become established, different ways of conducting research, publishing pedagogic literature, and teaching creatively and collaboratively are needed. We contribute to the beginnings of this movement by establishing an open access Resource Pack through AdvanceHE and a website of interdisciplinary case studies based on our interviews and
welcome further contributions.