Internationalization, Colonialism, and Community

October 09, 2015

By Tamar Breslauer

How does internationalization manifest itself around the globe? Does internationalization always serve the needs of the local community? Is the purpose of internationalization the same in every country? Gifty Oforiwaa Gyamera considers these questions in her study of internationalization efforts at three public universities in Ghana. In “The Internationalisation Agenda: A Critical Examination of Internationalisation Strategies in Public Universities in Ghana” published in International Studies in Sociology of Education, Gyamera considers the important, often unaddressed question: can internationalization undermine, rather than support, local higher education?

Gyamera depicts the internationalization efforts at these three universities through the words of the institutions themselves and those who work or study there. She examines the schools’ mission statements and goes further in-depth with interviews from the faculty, staff, and students. Among the 57 individuals she interviewed, she finds criticism for internationalization efforts from a variety of perspectives. Some argue that internationalization encourages institutions to sell themselves by using language such as “world class,” or stresses a focus on the profit-generating potential of higher education. While others question the use of “experts” to help them with their internationalization efforts, as these experts often come from outside of the community. Still, others express concern that internationalization is a modern form of colonialism. As one professor at the University of Ojo tells Gyamera, “‘I don’t necessarily disagree with internationalisation, I disagree with the way internationalisation has meant that we westernize our system’” (Gyamera 2015, 120). While Gyamera offers a diverse landscape of viewpoints on internationalization, the common themes that surface reveal doubts concerning the implementation of internationalization.

Rather than dismissing internationalization, Gyamera suggests that one perceive internationalization in a new way. She argues that the focus can move from external rankings to institutional strengths, the emphasis on profit can be reduced, and she argues for a community-university design structure.

More broadly, Gyamera’s critical examination of Ghana’s internationalization efforts raises questions about what internationalization means in different parts of the world. Is internationalization just another kind of colonialism? What responsibility do international partners have to ensure a balanced, mutually beneficial relationship? What community needs are ignored in the desire to internationalize? Can those needs be addressed as part of the internationalization process? Do problems always arise when “outsiders” are invited to consult on internationalization efforts?

For more discussion on the questions raised in this research, a deeper exploration on how these questions relate to other research on the same topic, and to share your reactions to this piece or others on the NAFSA blog, please visit the Network.NAFSA online community platform.


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