Research with international students: Reflecting on critical and conceptual methodological considerations 

By Dr. Jenna Mittelmeier, Dr. Sylvie Lomer, and Dr. Kalyani Unkule

Our upcoming edited volume Research with International Students: Critical Conceptual and Methodological Considerations (published by Routledge in 2023) aims to provide comprehensive methodological guidance for researchers who include international students as participants. Our interest in developing this book stems from recognition within the Critical Internationalisation Studies Network that research with international students is a disparate subfield that operates under several problematic assumptions, which we highlight below. The book includes 27 chapters from global authors, many of whom are active within this network. In this blog, we wish to delineate why we believe this book is necessary and encourage ongoing discussion about how research on this topic can be made more ethical, critical, and equitable. 

In the last few decades, the exponential growth of international students has led to increased scholarly interest in wide-ranging factors associated with their experiences and contributions. Significant areas of interdisciplinary research now focus on international students’ academic transitions, social interactions, and intersectional lived experiences. One might argue that research about international students is a subfield of a subfield: sitting within the internationalisation branch of higher education studies. Previous systematic reviews show the ways that the wider internationalisation umbrella has expanded in focus: 2,300 articles reviewed by Kuzhabekova et al. (2015) and more than 200 articles per year highlighted by Tight (2021). Systematic reviews of internationalisation research also show that research about international students makes a significant thematic contribution which has grown substantially over time (Kosmützky & Putty, 2016; 2015; Yemini & Sagie, 2016) and continues to attract new researchers, including increasing interest from postgraduate researchers (Montgomery, 2019). However, the field remains disparate and there have been limited attempts to systematically review known evidence about supporting international students across the subfield, despite decades of research (although there have been reviews on limited subsets within this area, as we highlight on our website: e.g., Lee & Bligh, 2019; Lomer & Mittelmeier, 2021; Pham et al., 2021).

Although there is significant interest in this topic, there is presently limited conceptual and methodological guidance specifically for researchers (rather than teachers) who conduct their work with and about international students. We argue that this situation means there are several issues that remain pervasive in this research area. First, research about international students has historically operated from positions of deficit (Lomer & Mittelmeier, 2021), as they are often assumed to lack experiences or skills necessary for success, particularly compared to home students. International students are frequently portrayed in research as only experiencing challenges or difficulties, which fails to account for the complexity of their multidimensional experiences. For example, the subfield is rife with research that seeks to fix perceived problems with international students’ believed lack of critical thinking, language proficiency, classroom participation, or referencing knowledge. 

We argue, and we aim for our book to highlight, that such approaches fail to engage with more transformative reflections on what has been called ‘academic hospitality’ (see Ploner, 2018): the reciprocity between academic institutions as ‘hosts’ and international students as respected ‘guests’. Such approaches also fail to view international students as ‘epistemic equals’ (Hayes, 2019) whose knowledges and experiences are equally worthy of inclusion rather than erasure. In short, we argue that many of the ideological purposes for international student mobility outlined through institutional discourses – of meaningful mutual exchange and intercultural pedagogic transformation –  are not reflected in the epistemologies and conceptualisations of research on students’ experiences. 

Research with international students also routinely leaves them othered (Moosavi, 2021) or stereotyped (Heng, 2018) through assumptions that they should assimilate to the cultures and practices of their hosts. International students’ identities are often presented in limited ways, failing to engage with how their migrant student status intersects with, for example, gender, race, disability, or class to impact experiences abroad (although members of this network have made great efforts to actively work against this – see, for example, recent work by Yao & George Mwangi, 2022). Scholars have, thus, critiqued that research in this subfield does not always critically engage with issues of power, inequality, and ethics (George Mwangi et al., 2018), which are foundational for understanding students’ experiences within unequal environments. As such, we believe that there is greater need for practical suggestions and reflection points for developing more critical and intersectional approaches to research with (not just about) international students. Even the very definition of ‘international student’ (Jones, 2017) should be critically interrogated for and through our research methodologies. 

Research methodologies also frequently limit their ambition and innovation, as repetitive findings about international students fail to challenge intrinsic inequalities and epistemic injustices. The plethora of exploratory research that vaguely focuses on ‘experiences’ highlights this characteristic (Deuchar, 2022) through small-scale studies that often over-rely only on ‘semi-structured interviews’. Research with international students similarly remains under-theorised and often fails to critically define or reflect on key underpinning concepts (Lomer & Mittelmeier, 2021), such as ‘experience’. As a result, much research about international students remains limited in scope, ambition, and criticality.

Given the aforementioned common limitations of research with international students, we argue that the subfield should be putting more effort into creating methodological resources which specifically address considerations for research with and about international students. The framing of our upcoming book is intended as a start to this conversation, developed to reflect burgeoning issues of critical internationalisation studies and the ways that research on this topic has often been framed problematically. However, we hope for more scope generally within the subfield for reflecting on how research methodologies align with the critical conceptual questions that are being raised about internationalisation. We ask, therefore: How can research methodologies and designs reflect the conceptual criticality we seek in research with international students? 

Research with International Students is expected to be published by Routledge in late 2023. In the meantime, the authors are continually developing free online resources to support more critical research with international students, available at: 

Thoughts and considerations for developing this topic further are welcomed in the comments or by email to the authors.


Deuchar, A. (2022). The problem with international students’ “experiences” and the promise of their practices: Reanimating research about international students in higher education. British Educational Research Journal.

George Mwangi, C. A. G., Latafat, S., Hammond, S., Kommers, S., S. Thoma, H., Berger, J., & Blanco-Ramirez, G. (2018). Criticality in international higher education research: a critical discourse analysis of higher education journals. Higher Education, 76(6), 1091–1107.

Hayes, A. (2019). “We Loved It Because We Felt That We Existed There in the Classroom!”: International Students as Epistemic Equals Versus Double-Country Oppression. Journal of Studies in International Education, 23(5), 554–571.

Heng, T. T. (2018). Different is not deficient: Contradicting stereotypes of Chinese international students in US higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 43(1), 22–36.

Jones, E. (2017). Problematising and reimagining the notion of “international student experience.” Studies in Higher Education, 42(5), 933–943.

Kosmützky, A., & Putty, R. (2016). Transcending Borders and Traversing Boundaries: A Systematic Review of the Literature on Transnational, Offshore, Cross-Border, and Borderless Higher Education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 20(1), 8–33.

Kuzhabekova, A., Hendel, D. D., & Chapman, D. W. (2015). Mapping Global Research on International Higher Education. Research in Higher Education, 56(8), 861–882.

Lee, K., & Bligh, B. (2019). Four narratives about online international students: a critical literature review. Distance Education, 40(2), 153–169.

Lomer, S., & Mittelmeier, J. (2021). Mapping the research on pedagogies with international students in the UK: a systematic literature review. Teaching in Higher Education, 1–21.

Montgomery, C. (2019). Surfacing “Southern” Perspectives on Student Engagement With Internationalization: Doctoral Theses as Alternative Forms of Knowledge. Journal of Studies in International Education, 23(1), 123–138.

Moosavi, L. (2021). The myth of academic tolerance: the stigmatisation of East Asian students in Western higher education. Asian Ethnicity, 1–20.

Pham, H.-H., Dong, T.-K.-T., Vuong, Q.-H., Luong, D.-H., Nguyen, T.-T., Dinh, V.-H., & Ho, M.-T. (2021). A bibliometric review of research on international student mobilities in Asia with Scopus dataset between 1984 and 2019. Scientometrics, 126(6), 5201–5224.

Ploner, J. (2018). International students’ transitions to UK Higher Education – revisiting the concept and practice of academic hospitality. Journal of Research in International Education, 17(2), 164–178.

Tight, M. (2021). Globalization and internationalization as frameworks for higher education research. Research Papers in Education, 36(1), 52–74.

Yao, C. W., & George Mwangi, C. A. (2022). Yellow Peril and cash cows: the social positioning of Asian international students in the USA. Higher Education, 1–18.

Yemini, M., & Sagie, N. (2016). Research on internationalisation in higher education – exploratory analysis. Perspectives Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 20(2-3), 90–98.

About the Authors

Dr. Jenna Mittelmeier (University of Manchester,, Twitter: @JLMittelmeier)

Jenna Mittelmeier is Lecturer in International Education at the University of Manchester (UK). Her research focuses on representations of international students in higher education and the ways that curricula or pedagogies are shaped through internationalisation.

Dr. Sylvie Lomer (University of Manchester,, Twitter: @SE_Lomer)

Sylvie Lomer is Senior Lecturer in Policy and Practice at the University of Manchester (UK). Her research centres on policies related to international students and internationalisation, focusing on representations of international students in public policy discourse.

Dr. Kalyani Unkule (Jindal Global Law School,   

Kalyani Unkule is Associate Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University in India. Her research complements her practice in intercultural dialogue and impact-driven projects in higher education internationalisation and spiritual learning.

Theoretical Approaches to the Study of International Students

Theoretical Approaches to the Study of International Students

by Minghui (Hannah) Hou, Jing Yu, and Shinji Katsumoto

In current internationalization research, international students tend to be considered a homogeneous group, overgeneralized as ‘internationals’ (Lee, 2014). The ‘international student experience’ is assumed to apply to all international students, but there are nuances in international students’ experiences (Heng, 2019). Jones (2017) notes that international student experiences are influenced by their personal, familial, and institutional backgrounds. In our first essay on this topic, we introduced different methodological approaches to studying international student diversity. In this second essay, we present some key theoretical approaches on which scholars can develop their study and methods to explore and analyze international students’ diverse experiences in U.S. higher education.


Neo-racism is a framework to “explore structural racism in the context of immigration where race, culture, and nationality interact complexly to produce a hierarchy of social positions” (Cantwell & Lee, 2010, p. 497). Neo-racism is deeply rooted in systemic racism and white supremacy (Lee, 2020; Stein & de Andreotti, 2016). Lee and Rice (2007) demonstrate that neo-racism is new racism that is attributable to skin color as well as culture, national origin, and relationships between countries. In the US, international students from Asia, Latin America, and Africa are often the targets of neo-racism in the forms of verbal assaults, bullying, false accusations, and even physical violence, which international students from the Global North do not often experience (Lee, 2006). The COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened neo-racism, particularly among Asian American and Asian international students (Wu et al., 2021). For example, Chinese international students suffered stigmatization related to the “Chinese Virus” or “China Virus” (Wang, 2020). 


Neo-nationalism is defined as “a radical form of populism with specific characteristics, including protagonists leveraging the politics of fear to attach and blame perceived enemies, domestic and foreign, wrapped in the mantle of patriotism” (Douglass, 2011, p. 17). Neo-nationalism is discrimination based on one’s national identity (Lee, 2006). In the globalization era, national identity is reintroduced and reconceptualized as a form of global competition. International students have been increasingly vulnerable due to the rising neo-nationalism in Western countries (Lee & Castiello-Gutiérrez, 2019). Kiecker Royall and Dodson (2017) found a declining interest in traveling to the US due to geopolitical tensions. For example, political rhetoric in the US places Chinese citizens as ‘spies’ and ‘stealing intellectual properties’ (Lee, 2020). Chinese students and researchers often experience biases when they apply for jobs due to the growing scrutiny from the American government. International students from Mexico and the Middle East tend to encounter more harassment (Lee & Castiello-Gutiérrez, 2019). As an additional example, the US is currently considering an end to research partnerships with Russia and expelling Russian students from U.S. universities over the invasion of Ukraine (Jones, 2022). 

Critical Race Theory (CRT)

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an analytical framework originating in Critical Legal Studies in the US. Many lawyers, activists, and legal scholars perceived that although the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s has ended, the law itself is deeply unequal to racial minorities. Therefore, CRT was developed to accelerate the pace of racial reform in the US. CRT was also expanded beyond the confinement of US borders to include an international context that applies to migrant populations (Gillborn et al., 2012; Kitching, 2015; Vass, 2015).

Delgado and Stefancic (2017) offered one widely cited set of central tenets of CRT: 1) racism is ordinary and natural in the everyday experience of people of color; 2) the dominant ideology promotes interest convergence; in other words, white Americans are willing to create laws and policies that support people of color only if whites benefit as well; 3) race is not objective, inherent, or fixed, but socially constructed and manipulated within systems and institutions; 4) minorities are differentially racialized; 5) intersectionality and anti-essentialism are crucial to understanding race and racism; and 6) the voices of people of color must be recognized in order to counter dominant hegemonic narratives through storytelling. Prior research suggests that international students of color are by no means immune from racism and discrimination (e.g., Yao et al., 2019; Yeo et al., 2019), so the process of racialization is a crucial topic to investigate in international student-related research. 

Asian Critical Race Theory (AsianCrit)

Education scholars find it very useful to analyze how white supremacy subjugates people of color; for this reason, CRT has developed to address specific issues in various communities of color. Building on CRT, Iftikar and Museus (2018) advanced an Asian Critical Race Theory (AsianCrit) framework that is specifically tailored to Asian American experiences, issues, and concerns. There are six tenets in AsianCrit: 1) Asian Americans are in the process of Asianization, meaning the particular ways Asian Americans are treated as a monolithic group and are racialized by white supremacy in the US; 2) Global economic, political, and social processes shape the conditions of Asian Americans; 3) (Re)constructive history transcends the visibility and silence of racialized experiences; 4) Strategic (anti)essentialism and intersectionality are crucial to understanding race and racism; 5) Experiential knowledge can challenge dominant, white, European epistemology; and 6) AsianCrit aims to eradicate all forms of oppression and exploitation. By applying AsianCrit, Saito and Li (2022) discovered that Chinese international students’ racialized experiences are deeply rooted in the US historical context, which is in urgent need of institutional support and preventive strategies to protect them from these and other forms of racist hatred.

Transnationalism and Critical Race Theory

In addition to branch theories of CRT to address the specific issues of racial minorities in the US, another piece written by Yao et al. (2019) incorporates transnationalism into CRT. These authors illuminated four tenets to analyze the international student experience in the US: 1) Race and racism permeate the international student experience; 2) Whiteness as property and white supremacy are normative; 3) Intersectionality is crucial to understanding the international students’ multiple layers of privileges and oppressions; and 4) The lens of interest convergence is the most visible tenet of CRT in international student-related research in the US context. 


Although often portrayed as a homogeneous group, international students are diverse individuals. Students who are from diverse demographic and educational backgrounds experience different challenges in host institutions and need different approaches to support addressing their intersectional identities within academic study and social experiences. We have introduced multiple methodological approaches (in our previous essay) and theoretical frameworks (in this essay), which would be helpful to learning and researching the heterogeneity of international students. Often, higher education institutions tend to focus on the recruitment of international students rather than retaining them and providing appropriate support due to the benefits brought by the students, such as the internationalization of the campus and economic contribution (Arthur, 2017). We believe that it is critical to further understand the diversity among international students rather than to view them as a homogenous group of students with similar experiences in their host country.


Arthur, N. (2017). Supporting international students through strengthening their social resources. Studies in Higher Education, 42(5), 887–894. 

Cantwell, B., & Lee, J. (2010). Unseen workers in the academic factory: Perceptions of neoracism among international postdocs in the United States and the United Kingdom. Harvard Educational Review, 80(4), 490-517.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory: An introduction (3rd edition). New York: New York University Press.

Douglass, J. A. (2021). Neo-nationalism and Universities: Populists, Autocrats, and the Future of Higher Education. JHU Press.

Gillborn, D., N. Rollock, C. Vincent, & Ball, S. (2012). ‘You got a pass, so what more do you want?’: Race, class and gender intersections in the educational experiences of the black middle class. Race Ethnicity and Education 15(1),121-139.

Heng, T. T. (2019). Understanding the heterogeneity of international students’ experiences: A case study of Chinese international students in US universities. Journal of Studies in International Education, 23(5), 607-623.

Iftikar, J. S., & Museus, S. D. (2018). On the utility of Asian critical (AsianCrit) theory in the field of education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 31(10), 935-949. 

Jones, E. (2017). Problematising and reimagining the notion of “international student experience.” Studies in Higher Education, 42, 933-943.

Kitching, K.  (2015). How the Irish became CRT’d? ‘Greening’ Critical Race Theory, and the pitfalls of a normative Atlantic state view, Race Ethnicity and Education, 18(2), 163-182.

Lee, J. (2006). International student experiences: Neo-racism and discrimination. International Higher Education, (44).

Lee, J. J. (2014). Understanding international students: Beyond U.S.-centrism and towards international consciousness. In S. Harper & S. Quaye (Eds.), Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (pp. 105-120). Routledge.

Lee, J. J. (2020). Neo-racism and the criminalization of China. Journal of International Students, 10(4), 780-783.

Lee, J. J., & Rice, C. (2007). Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination. Higher Education, 53(3), 381–409.

Lee, J. J., & Castiello-Gutiérrez, S. (2019). Engaging International Students at U.S. Higher Education Institutions. In S. J. Quaye; S. Harper & S. L. Pendakur (Eds.), Student Engagement in Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations (3rd ed., pp. 107-129). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Saito, L. E., & Li, J. (2022). Applying an AsianCrit lens on Chinese international students: History, intersections, and Asianization during COVID-19. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Leadership Studies, 3(1), 122-140.

Stein, S., & de Andreotti, V. O. (2016). Cash, competition, or charity: International students and the global imaginary. Higher Education, 72(2), 225–239.

Vass, G. (2015). Putting critical race theory to work in Australian education research: “We are with the garden hose here”, The Australian Educational Researcher, 42(3), 371-394.

Wang, T. (2020). Students caught between globalisation and nationalism. University World News.

Wu, C., Qian, Y., & Wilkes, R. (2021). Anti-Asian discrimination and the Asian-white mental health gap during COVID-19. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 44(5), 819-835.

Yao, C. W., George Mwangi, C. A., & Malaney Brown, V. K. (2019). Exploring the intersection of transnationalism and critical race theory: A critical race analysis of international student experiences in the United States. Race Ethnicity and Education, 22(1), 38–58. 

Yeo, H. T., Mendenhall, R., Harwood, S. A., & Huntt, M. B. (2019). Asian international student and Asian American student: Mistaken identity and racial microaggressions. Journal of International Students, 9(1), 39–65.

About the Authors:

Minghui (Hannah) Hou is a Ph.D. candidate in the higher education program at Old Dominion University. Her research focuses on international education equity, neo-racism, international student agency, US-China geopolitical tensions, etc. She has served as copy editor for the Journal of International Students and production editor for the Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education. Email:

Jing Yu is a Ph.D. candidate in Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at University of California Santa Barbara. She received M.A. in Teaching and Learning from the Ohio State University in 2015. Her research interests include international student mobility, intersections of race, class, and nationality, as well as international dimensions of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. She serves on editorial boards for Journal of College Student Development and Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. Email:

Shinji Katsumoto is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program and a graduate researcher at the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa. His research focuses on international student success and world university rankings in the international education context. His recent publications about international student experiences appear in such outlets as the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education and the Journal of College Student Development. Email:

Putin’s War: Supporting International Students During Global Crises

by Abu Arif, Juanita Hennessey, Sonja Knutson, Lynn Walsh (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

At a moment when the members of education communities around the world are working to find a way to live with COVID-19, internationalization of higher education (IHE) communities have also been challenged by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to wage a war against Ukraine. When it is expected from international educators to reimagine international education in a way that is equitable and inclusive (de Wit & Jones, 2018), anti-racist (Buckner et al. 2021), anti-colonial (Beck & Pidgeon, 2020), and sustainable (Shields, 2019), Mr. Putin’s war is unnecessarily taking IHE communities away from these critical conversations. This situation forces international educators to think about a) what will be the world order due to this invasion, and b) how IHE communities will adjust to the new global political realities? In Canada, we are also thinking about how we best show up for international students from Ukraine and Russia, and what are the ways we can support refugees who are being deprived of a post-secondary education due to Putin’s invasion. 

Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) is the most eastern university in Canada with a total population of 4400 international students. The only university in Newfoundland and Labrador, MUN hosts international students from both Ukraine and Russia. Due to the nature of the world, we are not unfamiliar with supporting international students during wars and internal conflicts. We have established protocols to reach out to international students during emergencies/global crises. Almost immediately after the invasion started, we sent two separate emails to Ukrainian and Russian students. From conversations with Ukrainian and Russian students, it is clear that they are worried about whether they will be able to complete their programs due to financial issues and fear for the future of their immigration status. Quite understandably, students are also worried about their families back home, concerned about if/when they will be able to go back to their motherland, and struggling emotionally. This conflict has also illustrated that people impacted by war may not only be those who hold the citizenship of the countries directly involved. In addition to the Ukrainian and Russian immigrant communities, there are many international students, especially West Africans, with connections to Ukraine. Thus, when MUN gives consideration to who needs support in times of conflict and crisis it may be a larger community than indicated from the lists run through the student database.

Immigration is one of the top concerns for international students from Ukraine and Russia. Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will issue open work permits to Ukrainian students who are currently in Canada and cannot go home, so they can stay longer if they wish (IRCC, March 2, 2022). IRCC has also committed to waive fees for certain travel, including visitor visas and work and study permits (IRCC, March 2, 2022). The Federal Government has also announced the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) program to help Ukrainians and their family members come to Canada with the ability to work and study while in Canada. One thing to note here, Ukraine refugees will land in Canada as temporary residents, not permanent residents like all other refugees. Temporary residents are not eligible for health care/settlement help/language instruction/student loans. As for the Russian students, many are fearing expulsion from the country and are asking if they will face biases in case they need to extend their permits. They are also concerned that if they return home for the summer holidays, then they may be forced to join the Russian army and/or may face an embargo when returning to Canada to complete their studies. 

MUN has emergency funds to assist students in the short-term during crises such as grocery gift cards, tuition bursaries, or repayment plans for tuition. One of the challenges is that, as an institution, MUN is only equipped to help with interim financial aid. If the conflict or economic sanctions continue for an extended period, it will be increasingly more difficult for students, especially at the undergraduate level. In terms of personal support, MUN endeavors to work with students on a case-by-case basis. At a minimum, students should be aware of the types of services available (personal counseling, academic advising, career advising, etc.). Some will avail of services without assistance, but some may want a coordinated care approach. If the latter, then being able to advocate for students, reach out to units to arrange for services, and be the point of contact for both the student and the units providing support is necessary. 

MUN is looking for ways we can support Ukranians entering Canada under the CUAET program to carry on with, or embark on, post-secondary study. Discussions are being held on everything from application fees to scholarships, to documents required for admissions, to how to support this cohort to finance their studies. In addition, universities have the infrastructure – classrooms and housing – which generally have low usage through the summer months. As we have with previous wars, we have been in contact with our local settlement agency to let them know we are willing to share what we can should they be suddenly overwhelmed by an influx of arrivals. 

As we try to understand and support our students, we seek insight, advice, and suggestions from our colleagues facing similar situations at their institutions. In your experience, what supports are you able to offer your students on- and off-campus? What are the specific needs of students when it comes to violence experienced at home and how are you dealing with this? How is your institution supporting students from Ukraine who are in financial need? How might your institution be supporting Russian students who are concerned about the personal financial consequences of economic sanctions or the banning of Russia from SWIFT, which poses challenges in transferring funds from students’ homes for fee payment?  As Ukrainian families flee the country, it will be difficult for families to send money to their students for tuition. Will you accept deferred fee payments for the current and next semesters? How are you handling housing requests from students? We hope that through continued internal and external dialogue we can learn from each other about how post-secondary institutions are dealing with personal, academic, and financial issues their students are facing. Please share your thoughts with the Newsletter’s editors by submitting a response to 


Beck, K., & Pidgeon, M. (2020). Across the Divide: Critical Conversation on Decolonization, Indigenization, and Internationalization. In Merli Tamtik, Roopa Desai Trilokekar and Glen A. Jones (Ed), International Education As Public Policy in Canada (pp. 384-406). McGill-Queen’s University Press. 

Buckner, Lumb, P., Jafarova, Z., Kang, P., Marroquin, A., & Zhang, Y. (2021). Diversity without race: How university internationalization strategies discuss international students. Journal of International Students, 11(1), 32–49.

De Wit, H. & Jones, E. (2018). Inclusive Internationalization: Improving Access and Equity. International Higher Education, 94(94), 16–18.

Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (March 02, 2022). Additional immigration support for Those Affected by the Situation in Ukraine.

Shields, R. (2019). The sustainability of international higher education: Student mobility and global climate change. Journal of Cleaner Production, 217, 594–602. 

About the Authors:

Abu Arif is a doctoral student of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is an international student advisor (immigration and special projects) and founder of international network of tomorrow’s leader of CBIE. 

Juanita Hennessey is an international student advisor (outreach) of Memorial University of Newfoundland. She is a recipient of Memorial president’s distinguished service award  2016. 

Dr. Sonja Knutson is the director of the internationalization office of Memorial University. She  is also an acting director of the writing centre and an adjunct professor of education at Memorial. She is the winner of the CBIE leadership award 2012. 

Lynn Walsh is the Manager of the internationalization office of Memorial University. She is the current co-chair of internationalization of student affairs, CACUSS

Supporting People in/from Ukraine

The ongoing Russian violence in Ukraine is completely antithetical to the set of values that we, as practitioners and scholars of international higher education, believe and practice. We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and especially, with their higher education community of students, scholars, and administrators.

Given the difficult current conditions in Ukraine, there is much that we can do from afar to help. In this document, we are sharing some resources and ways of helping. We compiled these resources from our Ukrainian friends and colleagues who have been organizing relentlessly to raise awareness and provide support mechanisms to the people in Ukraine or those who have already been forced to flee.

  • Scholars at Risk has several resources for both scholars and practitioners seeking support as well as for advocates and prospective host institutions. Learn more about these efforts here.
  • The National Bank of Ukraine opened a fundraising account for humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians affected by Russia’s aggression. More information here.
  • The Come Back Alive Foundation accepts financial contributions to provide life-saving equipment to Ukrainian soldiers. Find out more here.
  • United Help Ukraine is an NGO that assists internal refugees by providing medical supplies and humanitarian aid: 
  • The Voices of Children Foundation works with affected children and families in Ukraine, providing emergency psychological assistance, and assisting in the evacuation process: 
  • Razom is a foundation that assists healthcare and education in eastern Ukraine: 

Also, please see these excellent blog posts by Professor Timothy Snyder on additional ways to help Ukraine:

Methodological Approaches to the Study of International Students

by Minghui (Hannah) Hou, Jing Yu, and Shinji Katsumoto

Although international students exhibit a variety of backgrounds in terms of nationalities, native languages, education histories, and other characteristics, the diversity within this group is often overlooked in higher education research and its data management. The U.S. National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) racial category exemplifies the tendency to view international students as a homogeneous group because these students are categorized as a single racial category (nonresident alien); a racial category used in addition to American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander, and White. In a two-part essay, we want to share examples of theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches that acknowledge and address international students’ heterogeneity. In this first essay, we introduce quantitative and qualitative critical methodologies and offer several suggestions for the future direction of research about international students, focusing especially on the diversity within this student group.

Critical Quantitative Methodology 

Critical quantitative methodology is the employment of quantitative data and methods in a way that is guided or shaped by critical theory. According to Stage (2007), there are two aims of the critical quantitative approach. One is to “[u]se data to represent educational processes and outcomes on a large scale to reveal inequities and to identify social or institutional perpetuation of systematic inequities in such processes and outcomes” (p. 10), and the other is to “[q]uestion the models, measures, and analytic practices of quantitative research in order to offer competing models, measures, and analytic practices that better describe experiences of those who have not been adequately represented” (p. 10). The former goal needs large-scale datasets to conduct institutional- or national-level analysis while the latter goal requires researchers to reflect on their approach and the methods they are employing. The variable coding process offers a good example of how the traditional approach to conducting quantitative research may fail to describe the experiences of a certain group. Teranishi (2007) claims that a traditional approach to race categorization (e.g., 1=White, 2=Black, and so on) can give the impression that each category is homogeneous and can disguise the diversity within each category. For example, in such traditional coding, Asian students will be treated as one category and compared with other racial categories; however, it is critical to understand and explore the diversity within the category of Asian. Thus, researchers using quantitative methods should be cautious whether the employed approach misrepresents a certain group of students.

Critical Qualitative Methodology 

The term qualitative is an umbrella concept that encompasses many different forms of inquiry to understand social phenomena, including observation, individual and group interviewing, and textual and visual data analysis (Cresswell, 1998). The term critical refers to the capacity to inquire against the grain: to question the conceptual and theoretical bases of knowledge and method, to ask questions that go beyond prevailing assumptions and understandings, and to acknowledge the role of power and position in social phenomena. The notion of critical qualitative methodology includes self-critique and self-reflexivity and bears in mind that power relations are always existent (Yao & Vital, 2018). This can be done by rethinking what, why, and how we adopt particular approaches and including the marginalized population in our work, as well as engaging in “critical transformation at the local level” (Denzin et al., 2017, p. 484). For example, when we learn the method of interviewing, it is never simply the process of asking and answering questions. The key is that we need to be fully aware of the various ways in which power is enacted in the process of interviewing, which is part of a critical reflexive exercise.

Conclusion and Future Directions

Given current research on international students, it is important to keep in mind how critical scholars can be aware of and avoid creating power within research, regardless of the methodological approach, qualitative or quantitative. We posit that the following topics should be investigated in a post-pandemic world. First, it is worth exploring the mental health issues of international students. Against the backdrop of the global pandemic and the resurgence of anti-Asian racism, international students, especially students of Asian descent, suffer more blatant racism, which results in an increased likelihood of fear, anger, sadness, and mental health concerns, such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Second, international undergraduate and graduate students have confronted different challenges, so exploring heterogeneity within international students’ experiences can support the specific needs of international undergraduates and graduates. Third, the intersectionality of international students, such as class, gender, age, and nationality is important to investigate to reach a better understanding of how these identities shape students’ experiences and perspectives. Fourth, based on many research studies (e.g., Yao et al., 2019; Yeo et al., 2019), international students of color are also ‘raced’ in the US, so the process of racialization is a crucial topic to investigate. Lastly, considering the worldwide spread of geopolitical tensions and neo-nationalism, student mobility as the core of internationalization is a key topic for future work. More conversations and efforts should be made to make international student mobility more socially equitable and sustainable. 

The following questions can help researchers to better understand international students: 

  1. Given that the quantitative questionnaires developed for domestic students are often used for international students, what kind of student information should we ask to capture the diversity within the international student population? (e.g., nationality, K-12 education experiences in the U.S., TOEFL, or anything else?)
  2. What is diversity? Who defines diversity? Should international students be considered a diverse population? Who holds the power to make this decision?  What are the implications of the answer to this question in higher education settings?  

In the next edition of the Critical Internationalization Studies Network Newsletter, we will share theoretical frameworks that address international students’ different experiences based on the intersection of their immigration status, nationality, and race. Stay tuned!


Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. London: Sage Publications.

Denzin, N. K., Lincoln, Y. S., MacLure, M., Otterstad, A. M., Torrance, H., Cannella, G. S., … & McTier, T. (2017). Critical qualitative methodologies: Reconceptualizations and emergent construction. International Review of Qualitative Research, 10(4), 482-498.

Stage, F. K. (2007). Answering critical questions using quantitative data. New Directions for Institutional Research, (133), 5–16. 

Teranishi, R. T. (2007). Race, ethnicity, and higher education policy: The use of critical quantitative research. New Directions for Institutional Research, (133), 37–49. 

Yao, C. W., George Mwangi, C. A., & Malaney Brown, V. K. (2019). Exploring the intersection of transnationalism and critical race theory: A critical race analysis of international student experiences in the United States. Race Ethnicity and Education, 22(1), 38–58.

Yao, C. W., & Vital, L. M. (2018). Reflexivity in international contexts: Implications for U.S. doctoral students international research preparation. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 13, 193-210.

Yeo, H. T., Mendenhall, R., Harwood, S. A., & Huntt, M. B. (2019). Asian international student and Asian American student: Mistaken identity and racial microaggressions. Journal of International Students, 9(1), 39–65.

About the Authors:

Minghui (Hannah) Hou is a Ph.D. candidate in the higher education program at Old Dominion University. Her research focuses on international education equity, neo-racism, international student agency, US-China geopolitical tensions, etc. She has served as copy editor for the Journal of International Students and production editor for the Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education. Email:

Jing Yu is a Ph.D. candidate in Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at University of California Santa Barbara. She received M.A. in Teaching and Learning from the Ohio State University in 2015. Her research interests include international student mobility, intersections of race, class, and nationality, as well as international dimensions of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. She serves on editorial boards for Journal of College Student Development and Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. Email:

Shinji Katsumoto is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program and a graduate researcher at the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa. His research focuses on international student success and world university rankings in the international education context. His recent publications about international student experiences appear in such outlets as the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education and the Journal of College Student Development. Email:

Crafting non-western ways for writing

by Dr. Sharin Shajahan Naomi, Assistant Professor, Gender Studies. Asian University for Women.

While writing my Ph.D. thesis on Tibetan Buddhism and feminism, and working particularly on the decolonialization of knowledge, I found a plethora of literature on challenging the colonial perspective at a conceptual level. Obviously, those enriched conceptual understandings were useful. But I was looking for more than that. Decolonial theorist Walter Mignolo (2011) said, “decoloniality focuses on changing the terms of the conversation and not only its content” (p. 133). In meaning-making and the style of argument, a deliberate epistemic disobedience should be used to challenge conventional Eurocentric hegemony s (Mignolo, 2009). To me, decoloniality was about conceptual liberation from both western hegemonic knowledge and praxis. My PhD thesis was an autoethnography on my experience exploring an organic relationship between Tibetan Buddhism and feminism. Edward Said tells us that it is ‘a fallacy to assume that the swarming, unpredictable, and problematic mess in which the lives of human beings are lived can be understood on the basis of what book-text-say’ (Said, 1979, p. 93). I became aware of that fallacy when the distance between my experience and a traditional method of academic writing to capture those experiences became profound. As a feminist, Bangladeshi, and spiritual woman, I realized that to bring out the non-western voice and view, I had to craft non-western ways of writing. This non-western way is crafted through alternative epistemology, subjectivity, and style of narratives.

I agree that, during a postmodern era, differences between east and west are becoming ambiguous, relational, shifting, and without fixed borders. However, if their differences are completely ignored and not talked about, this would be “blanket dismissal” of cultural differences (Tamdgidi, 2005, p.189). In the absence of acknowledgment of difference, discourse can become “culturally blind” and hegemonic (Tamdgidi, 2005, p.189). Knowing this difference is part of a decolonization of knowledge.

A great deal of my experience was spiritual. Some of the characteristics of spiritual experience include interconnection with the cosmos, a transcendent way of being, and a feeling of wholeness (Cascio, 1998; Cowley, 1993). This spiritual knowledge was not transparent and clear in a modern sense. There was ambiguity, uncertainty and unknowing which western positivist discourse and writing style do not value. But from a spiritual person’s perspective reality was multiplicitous and unfolding in a way that is undefinable. If this reality was summed up in the name of clarity and delineation, its dynamic nature would be renounced. In my search for a praxis to reveal this experience within the academic world, I found there were huge scholarly works on Asian epistemology or contemplative epistemology which were focused on all these concerns.

Western epistemology that has been developed for the academic world is considered to be positivist and reductionist. On the other hand, non-western epistemologies such as African, Indigenous, Buddhist and Hindu ways of knowing are spirituality oriented in ways that value multiple possibilities, transpersonal aspects of human experience, and open- ended interpretations of meaning. With the movement of decolonization, alternative epistemic interventions have been developed to challenge the hegemonic Eurocentric ways of knowing. To me, Asian epistemology became a good site for decolonial perspective since it is grounded in knowledge of self and reality-based upon Asian spiritual intellectual traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism that are different from a western cartesian self and rationality (Liu, 2008).

Asian epistemology refuses to fall under the Western category of the epistemic framework (Denzin and Lincoln, 2008; Liu, 2008). This epistemology bought my thesis closer to my way of viewing self and reality from a Buddhist perspective. Taking an Asian epistemological stance, I could argue for a kind of knowing that would not be reduced to emotional and subjective states nor would it be properly understood by logical deduction (Liu, 2008). This knowing could accommodate a spiritual and contemplative state. Asian epistemology includes contemplative epistemology. Contemplative epistemology is a form of knowing that comes from meditative ways, including mindful states, profound silence and stillness, openness, intense focus and clarity, creating detachment with the contents of mind, and so on (Haynes, 2009). This contemplative state can be reduced neither to reason nor emotion (Ferrer, 2002). Hence, it can hold both, while at the same time it is beyond. These practices invoke empathic ways of understanding, profound silence, unconditional love, deep awareness, the vastness of the way of our being, interconnectedness, and wisdom on a very subtle level of the transience of self and reality (Haynes, 2009; Zajonc, 2005). Contemplation is often misunderstood as something separate from the world and critical consciousness. This way of knowing, if combined with critical insight, gives a new insight into self, reality, and social actions (Burggraf, 2007; Klein, 1995). It can bring a new interpretive angle to human experience from a holistic critical perspective. This mode of inquiry includes the use of arts, poetry, photographs, and creative writing in research in ways that share a subtle level of human experience (Janesick, 2016). Contemplation is used in both eastern spiritual and Judeo-Christian traditions (Hart, 2004). It is non-dichotomous in terms of breaking a strict binary relationship between east and west. Trinh T Minh-ha (1991) says, “between rational and irrational enslavement, there is an interval, and there is a possibility for a third term in the struggle” (p. 8). That third term is something that is beyond naming and framing, at the same time it floats within rationality and emotions, names and frames, categories and various concepts. Contemplative epistemology is reminiscent of this third term which I embraced to write my spiritual experience in my thesis.

Traditional western writing style and narrative are centered around a singular cartesian rationale self who needs to demonstrate command and authority over the knowledge to the readers. Here, self is written as an autonomous and fundamentally intellectual entity through mind/body, object/subject, and self/outer world separation (Yagelski, 2011). The Subject needs to speak in a linear way from a transparent and focused position. My epistemology presented a subject that refused to identify a singular self with mastery and command over the readers. Instead, there was a dynamic intersubjectivity in my writing through multiplicity and dialogic selves which works as an antidote against conventional western cartesian subjectivity. My writing was not to be read, but to be experienced. In this experience, multiple meanings become available and a range of emotional, psychological as well as intellectual responses are invoked. Neither the author nor the readers controlled the meaning completely. As a result, knowledge could flow from the co-construction of reality.

There was no fixed stable self in my writing. This purposeful disappearance of a static, fixed I was closely associated with the Buddhist subjectivity constituted through non-duality of mind-body as well as non-duality of outer and inner worlds. There was a continuity of self without any essence (Collins, 1982). This no-self was reflected through continuous transformation and messy appearance and disappearance of multiple selves. No-self does not indicate ‘nothing’ in a negative way, but it points towards emptiness through a fuller and more vast way of being. Although feminist politics of claiming rights over body, mind, and surroundings may be controversial, Buddhist subjectivity accepts multiple possibilities and selves. In my thesis, feminist subjectivity found no hindrance to weaving with Buddhist subjectivity. Their relationship was intertwined and complementary where feminist self was critical against injustice and discrimination under patriarchy, and, at the same time, became part of a vast subjectivity in the spiritual dimension. Feminist epistemological stance was valued the role of gender, class, and race and prioritized women’s perspective in giving meaning to their experiences (Damaris, 2001; Jiang, 2005; Ramazanoglu & Holland, 2002). The profound characteristic of this feminist Buddhist subjectivity was the combination of an awareness of chaos, conditions and changes, as well as an awakening to the centeredness, calmness, and serenity within (Klein, 1995).

To Eurocentric ideas and scholars trained within western academia, one’s expressions are often considered to be more accurate and clearer on the basis of following conventional positivist rules of linearity, categorization, separation, and syllogism. In this process of writing non-western narratives, I had to be brave enough to stray from western linear narrative models. I used both Indian and Zen narrative styles, where patterns were not linear, and which evolved in a circular way (Alexandru, 2015, Syverson, 2011). Unlike western English narrative’s pursuance of a steady plot, Indian narrative allows deliberate digression for the purposes of performativity and multiplicity (Alexandru, 2015). From a Western perspective, this style lacks coherency and includes unnecessary talk. Margaret Syverson articulates how Zen literature differs from the style of conveying a message in Western discourse, presenting a narrative full of “unexplained contradictions” (Syverson, 2011, p. 283). These contradictions in Zen narratives are not given deliberately for muddying the concept, but to break the pattern orientation and disciplinary thinking of mind. It is quite different from logocentric ways – the basis upon which Western thought has been structured since Plato (Heine, 1995; McQuillian, 2001).

Western discursive practice, although a site of free and critical thinking, cherishes its disciplinary panoptic gaze; a gaze where the observer scrutinizes the observed and remains beyond observation of itself (Sosale, 2002). Knowledge in this hegemonic paradigm relies more on the approval of some elite group rather than the potential to contribute to human beings’ consciousness with new ideas (Stephen, 2015). By taking alternative epistemological position, subjectivity, and narrative style, I disidentified with the normative gaze for giving space to the voices of margin (Pérez, 1999). In the language of Édouard Glissant, my non-western approach became opacity that demanded freedom from the violence of absolute comprehension, control, and transparency (Glissant, 1997). I found that without this opacity, the subaltern cannot speak about spiritual experiences in western discourses. Crafting non-western approaches to writing an academic work should give more emphasis to this opacity that is rooted in non-western spiritual contexts, which represents a particular worldview and knowledge and a distinctive perspective and spectacular reality.


Alexandru, M-S. D. (2015). Performance and performativity in contemporary Indian fiction in English. Brill.

Burggraf, S. (2007). Contemplative modes of inquiry in liberal arts education. Liberal Arts Online, June. Retrieved from:

Cascio, T. (1998). Incorporating spirituality into social work practice: A Review of What to Do. Families in Society, 79(5), 523-531.

Collins, S. (1982). Selfless persons: Imagery and thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press.

Cowley, A-D. S. (1993). Transpersonal social work: A theory for the 1990’s. Social Work, 38(5), 527-533.

Damaris, R. D. (2001, 6th July). Revisiting feminist research methodologies (Working Paper Submitted to Status of Women Canada, Research Division). Retrieved from:

Denzin, N. K. and Lincoln, Y. S. (2008). “Introduction: Critical methodologies and Indigenous researcher”. In Denzin, Norman K., Lincoln, Yvonna S. and Smith Linda, T. (Eds.). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. SAGE

Ferrer, J.N. (2002). Revisioning transpersonal theory: A participatory vision of human spirituality. State University of New York Press.

Glissant, É. (1997). Poetics of Relation. (Wing, B. Trans.). MI: University of Michigan Press.

Hart, T. (2004, January). Opening the contemplative mind in the classroom. Journal of Transformative Education, 2(1), 28-46.

Haynes, D.J. (2009). Contemplative practice: Views from the religion classroom and artist’s studio. ARTS: Arts in Religious and Theological Studies 20, 25-33.

Heine, S. (1995). Review of Mind as Mirror and the Mirroring of Mind: Buddhist Reflections on Western Phenomenology by Laycock, Steven W. Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 22, 507-510.

Jiang, X. (2000). Feminist Epistemology: An Introduction. CSA Academic Perspective, 1, 56-58. Retrieved from:

Klein, A. C. (1995). Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminist and the Art of Self. Beacon Press.

Liu, J H. (2008). “Asian Epistemologies and Contemporary Social Psychological Research”. In

Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y.S. (Eds.). Handbook of Qualitative Research. (4th ed.). Sage.

McQuillan, M. (2001). Introduction: Five Strategies for Deconstruction. In McQuillan, M. (Eds.). Deconstruction: A Reader. Routlage. pp. 1-43.

Minh-ha, T.T. (1991). When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics. Routledge .

Mignolo, W.D. (2011). Geopolitics of sensing and knowing: on (de)coloniality, border thinking and epistemic disobedience. Postcolonial Studies, 14(3), 273–283.

Mignolo, W.D. (2009). Epistemic Disobedience: Independent Thought and De-Colonial Freedom. Theory, Culture & Society, 26(7–8), 1–23.

Pérez, E. (1999). The decolonial imaginary: Writing Chicanas into history. Indiana University Press.

Syverson, M. (2011). True Beginner’s Mind: Fresh Encounters with Zen. Appamada.

Ramazanoglu, C. and Holland, J. (2002). Feminist Methodology: Challenge and Choices. SAGE Publications.

Said, E. (1979). Orientalism. Vintage.

Sosale, S. (2002). The Panoptic View: A Discourse Approach to Communication and Development. In Servaes, J. (Eds.). Approaches to Development Communication. UNESCO.

Stevenson, I. and Haraldsson, E. (2003). The Similarity of Features of Reincarnation Type Cases over Many Years: A Third Study. Journal of Scientific Exploration 17(2), 283-289.

Tamdgidi, M. (2005). Orientalist and Liberating Discourses of East-West Difference: Revisiting Edward Said and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The Discourse of Sociological Practice, 7(1&2), 187-201.

Yagelski, R.P (2011). Writing as a Way of Being: Writing Instruction, Nonduality, and the Crisis of Sustainability. Hampton Press.

Zajonc, A. (2005). Love and Knowledge: Recovering the Heart of Learning through Contemplation. Presented at Contemplative Practices and Education: Making Peace in Ourselves and in the World. Teachers College, Columbia University, February 11-13, 2005.

Practice Brief – a global pandemic: Reflections on the everyday and how to bring in critical perspectives 

A practitioner’s brief by Chelsey Laird

I am honoured by writing to you today from the unceded and traditional lands of the Coast Salish peoples. I am also humbled by the privilege of being safe from the catastrophic floods, landslides, and mudslides that many of our families, friends, and colleagues are navigating in the lower mainland of British Columbia at this time. 

I write this reflection from my perspective as an international education practitioner and administrator, but also as a doctoral student in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. The intersection of these identities presents a perspective that is informed by my lived reality of what internationalization of higher education is, in the Canadian context. It is this space, between theory and practice of internationalization of higher education, where my research interests lie. I am specifically focused on the experience of higher education staff members. This is of particular interest in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the internationalization of higher education.

As we enter 2022 and are nearing the end of the second year of the pandemic, I am struck by the magnitude at which higher education institutions have adapted to this new reality. Emerging practices include crisis communication, widespread shifts to virtual delivery of classes, alternative forms of student mobility, and internationalization at home initiatives. With each adaptation, new academic, pedagogical, operational, and administrative terrain has to be navigated.  

Of particular interest is how staff members have to adapt, pivot, and be flexible to ever-changing circumstances. Celia Whitchurch (2015, 2018) has explored the emergence of new actions and understandings of staff roles and responsibilities in higher education institutions. She uses the concept of “Third Space” to highlight the negotiation of relationships and power dynamics as it applies to the higher education environment. Whitchurch (2015) also typifies the concept “Third Space Professional” as those that develop new knowledge in practice constantly by applying their expertise to complicated tasks. The “Third Space” in higher educational contexts is fraught with paradoxical situations. For example, staff need to respond to external pressures that meet both policy and academic needs and work through challenges, agendas, and perceptions of a range of interests that require negotiation and flexibility (Whitchurch, 2015). To successfully manage this, Third Space Professionals exhibit skills, such as adaptability, creativity, improvisation, and negotiation (Whitchurch, 2018). Working in this space, where something new emerges, Third Space Professionals work through frustration and challenges by involving a degree of struggle, negotiation, persistence, and courage (Whitchurch, 2015).  And yet, much of this work remains or has become increasingly invisible, a phenomenon observed by Szekeres, in studies on higher education staff roles in the early 2000s (Szekeres, 2004; 2006).

While this leads me to conclude that higher education staff continue to work and operate in a context where they are assumed, and indeed, expected to have the skills and navigate through tensions and challenges in their everyday work. Some of these tensions are navigating between policy and practice, while other tensions relate to personal values and ethical quandaries. Now is the time to ask ourselves, our colleagues, and our leaders some difficult questions. For me,  posing these questions will bring staff members’ experiences to light. This can lead to inclusive, ethical approaches to the operations and administration of internationalization of higher education. It also has implications for more equitable and just practices in our sector throughout the pandemic.

Some questions to reflect on include:

  • How can we better support our practitioners?
  • What supports, knowledges, or spaces do staff members need as they navigate through key paradoxes in their work?
  • How can we empower practitioners to have more agency in their daily work?
  • How can practitioners bring critical perspectives to their everyday work, without being marginalized?
  • How can practitioners make the everyday experience of internationalization of higher education, and the challenges that they navigate and work through to be recognized, honoured, and appreciated?

About the author:

Chelsey Laird is a doctoral student in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, the Director of the University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific (UMAP) International Secretariat at Vancouver Community College, and a sessional instructor at University of the Fraser Valley all located in the lower mainland of British Columbia, Canada. 


Szekeres, J. (2004). The invisible workers. Journal of Higher Education, Policy and Management, 26 (1), 7-22. DOI: 10.1080/1360080042000182500

Szekeres, J. (2006). General Staff Experiences in the Corporate University. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 28(2), 133-145. DOI:10.1080/13600800600750962

Whitchurch, C. (2015). The Rise of Third Space Professionals: Paradoxes and Dilemmas. In Ulrich T. and Willima C. (eds.) Forming, Recruiting and Managing the Academic Profession. p.79-100. Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-16080-1_1

Whitchurch, C. (2018). Being a higher education professional today. In Carina B. and Natalie B. (eds.) Professional and Support Staff in Higher Education, University and Development and Administration. Springer Nature Singapore Ltd, p.11-21

Challenges and Opportunities in the International Higher Education “Post- Pandemic” Landscape

An interview by: Abu Arif and Melissa Whatley

International education is a vast field of scholarship and practice. Internationalization of higher education (IHE) has been contested, debated, deconstructed, and reconstructed. While some have discussed the end of internationalization (Brandenburg & De Wit, 2011) others have discussed reimagining or rebuilding this field of practice (Stein, 2021). Since the post-World War II era, the international education sector has faced many challenges including the Cold War, 9/11 and its responses, the election of Donald Trump, and Brexit, but perhaps nothing compares to COVID-19. The pandemic has severely impacted the core of the internationalization of higher education – human mobility. CISN reached out to three IHE scholars and leading practitioners in the USA and Canada to learn about their visions for the future of IHE in the “post-pandemic” landscape. We encourage readers to send us their comments about their own responses to the following questions and their thoughts on the responses from Dr. Sonja Knutson, Dr. Harvey Charles, and Dr. Adel El Zaïm outlined here.

CISN: What are some challenges and opportunities you see for IHE in the post-pandemic landscape? 

Dr. Harvey Charles: The challenges that currently face international higher education are not generally unknown. The economic devastation unleashed by the pandemic has impacted institutional budgets to varying degrees, but few have escaped unscathed. Colleges and universities in many industrialized countries have benefitted from partial government relief in one form or the other, but the same has not been true for the overwhelming majority of institutions in the developing world serving the overwhelming majority of post-secondary students. Enrollment declines have also led to the closing of colleges, the cessation of programs of study and even reductions in faculty positions and salaries as well as student stipends (where applicable). The pandemic has also created economic havoc in the lives of millions of families across the world, impacting the ability of students to afford tuition fees and related expenses.  These challenges have been compounded by new modalities for teaching and learning and new paradigms for post-secondary education that will accelerate and prove incredibly disruptive in the post-pandemic landscape.  Every passing day makes more remote the possibility that IHE will ever return to the status quo pre-pandemic.

The pandemic has been so disruptive, that it has provided an opening for institutions to seriously grapple with more fundamental questions about their future and their identity.  Whether recognized or not, this is an opportunity for institutions to determine how best to retool, redefine, and reassert themselves in the new era going forward. The issue of academic quality will become an even more pressing issue going forward as institutions struggle to meet high academic standards with fewer resources. Another opportunity comes in the form of what the unmistakable narrative of the pandemic has helped us to recognize, that being the fragility of the human experience, how tightly our fates are bound as humans, and the global context within which our lives are lived. These realities, although not new, offer a prescient reminder of how necessary it is to center global perspectives in the strategic outlook that institutions adopt, and how critical it is to prepare not merely competent graduates, but globally competent graduates.  We are in the midst of a fundamental shift in human history.  Institutions that do not acknowledge and adjust to this transition in terms of the programs of study they offer, the research agenda they pursue, and the preparation that they offer students are guaranteed a fairly swift demise. 

Dr. Sonja Knutson: I am not yet able to envision IHE post-pandemic simply because the pandemic remains an ongoing factor in IHE, and we continue to struggle to support students. The pandemic is limiting our students from traveling due to variant concerns, impacting students’ ability to access campus due to vaccination regimes, and generally leading to greater costs to international students to enroll in foreign institutions. The ongoing uncertainty has effects on student anxiety levels as well as their overall ability to finance their studies. Opportunities for IHE are going to centre around institutional ability to pivot as needed to support their students, regardless of where the students live.

My concern is that remote learning is seen as “second best” both by students and by institutions. There was a rush to get back to normal in September for the majority of course offerings. This is understandable, but while in-person classes are now the “norm” again, the lack of ongoing remote course offerings disadvantage students who are stranded in their home countries due to the continued impacts of the pandemic. In order to support all our students equitably, remote offerings need to continue for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Adel El Zaïm: The backlash of commercial globalization, the lack of trust in science and in politicians, added to the pandemic and to the rise of nationalism in some countries created a wave of doubt about the benefits of IHE. Higher education institutions and specialists need now to prove again the relevance and the positive impacts of internationalization by being intentional and serious about internationalization at home and internationalization of the campus and of research. By doing so, we will then touch 100% of our students and not only those who can afford to travel.

CISN: How do you reconcile between the push for increased student mobility and the climate crisis

Dr. Harvey Charles: There has never been a time that climate change has deserved our attention and concerted efforts to address more than now. Indeed, it is now clear to most scientists, policymakers, educators, and even high school students that confronting and seeking to resolve climate change is not an option but rather an imperative. The academy has a special responsibility in this regard, because it can shape and/or influence the attitudes of students towards this, the most consequential issue of our times. In fact, climate change, as a manifestation of one of globalization’s impacts on the academy demands that the internationalization agenda (internationalization as higher education’s response to globalization) reflect as robust a response to this existential threat to human existence. But does engaging with climate change imply a zero-sum game? Does it mean that the work of the academy that involves research collaboration, building new facilities, heating and cooling our places of work and study, publishing new books, and engaging with stakeholders near and far is incompatible with good faith efforts to mitigate climate change? Does it mean that a virtual environment is the only context in which higher education can perform if it is to be true to the ideals of sustainability?

The one institution that has stood in the vanguard of pursuing truth, innovation, and discovery, and indeed, of understanding the factors that are driving us to the brink in terms of climate change has been the academy. And the academy delivers only when the best and the brightest minds gather from all corners of the globe to collaborate in defining the problems that confront humankind, and investigate ways to solve these problems. This process, necessitating pilgrimages centuries ago, has changed only in the sense that we now know a lot more, and new technologies facilitate quicker forms of communication and transportation.  But the heart of this process (the coming together of the best possible minds) continues to constitute a fundamental approach to science and discovery, be it in understanding the processes that unleash devastating earthquakes, or in researching and finding cures for COVID-19 that continues to destroy economies, livelihoods and lives. Even when student mobility is undertaken to extend cross-cultural understanding, this is not a junket, but rather part of the brief of what it means to educate the next generation of professionals and citizens. To compromise the singular work of the academy in the name of climate change would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater and arguably set back the project of human advancement much more than climate change could. Climate change abatement and increased student mobility are not necessarily at cross purposes, especially if there is an active commitment to understand and overcome it, both as a global challenge and in terms of practices that institutions adopt internally. Understood in its highest sense, student mobility may actually aid in climate change abatement.

Dr. Sonja Knutson: My sense is that more education about the climate crisis and IHE is needed overall. All our programming should be aimed at mitigating and not aggravating the climate crisis. This doesn’t mean “canceling” student mobility programs, but it does mean understanding how travel to a new location impacts the climate and balancing that with the positive impacts of learning abroad experiences.

What is the impact of a student undertaking a learning abroad experience? Do such experiences help students commit more deeply to global issues, and if not, should that be the goal? To me, these and other questions need to be addressed not only at the global level but also at the institutional level – to ensure what we do tallies with our institutional values.

Dr. Adel El Zaïm: Traveling for study or for acquiring new knowledge and culture is not a new phenomenon. For centuries, Humans traveled around the world and they will resume traveling as soon as possible. The responsibility of higher education is, on one side, to do more research and accelerate innovations that aim at mitigating risks and impacts of the climate crisis. On the other side, education on climate change and sustainable development, in general, is key. IHE might be the ultimate opportunity to educate more students and more decision-makers about the interdependency of human society and the need for more solidarity among countries and communities.

CISN: During the pandemic, many social injustice issues have resurfaced. From your position, what are some of the tensions you are navigating when talking about social justice given your positionalities and the places you occupy?

Dr. Harvey Charles: Negotiating issues of social justice is often fraught. It is further complicated by issues of power, privilege, class, race, educational status, and sexuality, among other factors.  I am a tenured full professor teaching undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom are first-generation college students coming from financially stressed backgrounds.  It would not be surprising, however, if some of my students were to question my ability to understand the circumstances from which they come and the challenges they face as they try to juggle jobs, family commitments, assignments, and exams, given the job security and relative comfort I enjoy as an academic. 

As a seasoned international educator, a tenured professor, an international education consultant, a board member on academic journals and organizations, a mentor to many younger professionals, and a scholar, some of my colleagues may think that I am perfectly positioned and have it made.  And yet, as an African American, I question my ability to be credible to white audiences when addressing issues of social justice and anti-racism.  In fact, just inhabiting black skin makes me suspect, certainly outside the confines of the academy, but sometimes, even within.  My broad and deep experience as an international educator is matched by few within the field, yet there are times when I have wondered about the extent to which my racial status has been held against me as I have competed, unsuccessfully, for positions for which I was eminently qualified. 

The quest to advance social justice in the communities in which we live and the policies that touch and shape our lives is never-ending. To retreat from this work is not an option, yet, it is tiring, unforgiving, sometimes depressing, and disillusioning.  However, it is also necessary, because it is all we have at our disposal to more favorably impact our quality of life and even our survival, and it is the only way we can leave the world a better place for our children.

Dr. Sonja Knutson: Throughout the pandemic, I’ve held a full salaried job, been able to easily work from home or the office, and not suffered any major disruptions to my normal life. So I am in a privileged position, yet often asked (by government, community stakeholders, media, and my own institution) to articulate the issues of students. I am very reluctant to speak on behalf of equity-deserving populations, and it is tough to navigate that balance of advocacy without “speaking for”.

I have worked to develop a diverse office that includes student staff from diverse backgrounds and to empower their voices, through encouraging their participation in discussions, workshops, and media events and publications. Our community needs to hear the voices of those impacted by social justice issues, and while I may be able to draw attention to an issue, it shouldn’t be me that shares the stories. It is definitely challenging to navigate the balance as there are some tables where these voices are not yet welcome, but we continue to push for change, leveraging allies and grounding our work in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion values.  

Dr. Adel El Zaïm:  Members of the senior leadership of a university are in the first row to witness tensions that impact the whole institution. Being proactive about equity, diversity, and inclusion in all aspects of academic life is probably the most serious issue. Pushing for and supporting education that builds professional, human, and social competencies, and skills is not an easy task. Higher education institutions need also to seriously examine to what extent they are really training students to acquire critical thinking skills and to develop a science culture.

CISN: During the pandemic, other means of international engagement, like virtual exchange, have emerged as viable options for students. How do you see these options being integrated into standard international program offerings at your institution?

Dr. Harvey Charles: Virtual exchange and collaborative online international learning (COIL) are two options that have now found a seemingly permanent home among international program offerings. They have effectively extended opportunities for international engagement.  While COIL had a fledgling life prior to the pandemic, virtual exchange was virtually unheard of in a situation where in-person exchange was uninhibited. Might more faculty elect to collaborate with colleagues around the world through COIL initiatives to enrich the learning of students and expand internationalization at home opportunities? Will education abroad advisers succeed at engaging students in virtual research abroad or virtual study abroad who might otherwise never consider leaving home? Some campuses will see these virtual strategies as a replacement for conventional programs that have been ended due to budget cuts. Others will drop these programs and pivot back to pre-pandemic practice. Others still will continue these virtual strategies alongside the more conventional programs as a way to give students more options and expand levels of participation. Whatever path an institution chooses, what ultimately matters is that every effort is made to prepare globally competent graduates. The pandemic has taken us over a threshold from which there is no return. The paradigm of the future we now inhabit is global, and students must be prepared to meet its challenges and opportunities.

Dr. Sonja Knutson: Virtual international engagement, including virtual exchange, has been a priority for our office for many years, and when the pandemic first began we were very pleased that it suddenly became more globally acceptable. However, since we pivoted away from remote learning in the Fall, we are back to struggling with virtual exchanges. We simply don’t have the courses available now to attract students to virtual exchange, and neither do our partners. That optimism we had about normalizing virtual engagement already feels like a blip, even though we are far from out of the pandemic.

It did surprise me how quickly we closed down remote learning and focused on in-person teaching and learning again. I would like to see remote learning more generally offered again. I should say that what I mean by remote learning is synchronous and asynchronous opportunities for students to meet each other regularly over a technological platform, build relationships, and truly engage in an exchange experience.  Of course, for this to work with our bilateral partnerships with overseas institutions, they would need to offer the same opportunities. At this time, I don’t see the virtual options being integrated into standard international program offerings, but I hope I am wrong and that course offerings become more flexible in delivery choice again. 

Dr. Adel El Zaïm:  At the beginning of the pandemic, IHE specialists entered into a debate about the “new normal” and what it will look like. Two years later, we still do not know what and how exactly we will be teaching. Obviously, we have invested a tremendous amount of effort, resources and we learned a lot about virtual exchange, distance learning, mixed teaching modalities. In my humble opinion, higher education will witness more and more developments and innovations in the months and years to come. We will probably see more new modalities and new players from emerging countries and institutions who will be agile enough to offer new solutions and opportunities. While some western universities are closing their campuses abroad, other countries are becoming regional hubs for international education in the global south. This is very encouraging. The international research collaboration will be more visible and higher education institutions and research funders will support it despite the International lack of trust vis-à-vis China and other countries that hinders science collaboration and knowledge sharing.

About the Interviewees:

Dr. Harvey Charles is Professor of International Education in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership at the University at Albany. He has served as the Chief International Officer at a number of universities across the United States, including most recently, at the University at Albany where he was the Dean for International Education and Vice Provost for Global Strategy.

Dr. Sonja Knutson: As an internationalization and student affairs professional and scholar, Dr. Knutson currently has a complex university-wide mandate to implement the Strategic Internationalization Plan (SIP) 2020 at Memorial University. Dr. Knutson is the Director and Senior International Officer of Memorial University of Newfoundland. 

Dr. Adel El Zaïm is the Vice-Rector for Research, Creation, Partnerships and Internationalization at the Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO). In this role, Dr. El Zaïm is responsible for the development and implementation of institutional strategic orientations concerning research and internationalization as well as the development and maintenance of partnerships.


Brandenburg, U., & De Wit, H. (2011). The end of internationalization. International Higher Education, (62).

Stein, S. (2021). Critical internationalization studies at an impasse: Making space for complexity, uncertainty, and complicity in a time of global challenges. Studies in Higher Education, 46(9), 1771-1784.

Exploring Tensions in Decolonization of Internationalization of Higher Education

Authors: Abu Arif, Punita Lumb, Milad Mohebali, and Anushay Irfan Khan

We are doctoral students who occupy various locations and spaces in higher education. We are “settlers in diasporic communities” (Punita’s essay) and live in borderlands. Our research interests and positionalities brought us together after a CISN sub-group on race and racism meeting. In our conversations, we shared our thoughts on internationalization of higher education, the range of decolonial theories and praxis, and epistemological tensions. We write this piece as a practice of “hungry translations” (Nagar, 2017) that situates the four of us as knowledge producers in an ongoing relational dialogic process toward epistemic justice. By talking in relation to the tensions we face in our scholarly pursuit, we are in dialogue with one another without requiring transcendental conclusions or marginalizing each others’ complexities. We start this piece by replying to the prompt of how we have all arrived at decolonization in our scholarly work. What are some of the tensions we are navigating when talking about decolonization given our positionalities and the places we occupy? We conclude by reflecting together on our narratives and posing critical questions that we hope will invite our readers to reflect deeper alongside us.

“Politics of Identity and Location” by Punita Lumb, OISE, University of Toronto 

Some of the tensions I have been contending with are trying to articulate my own positionality and to understand how my work is interpreted and ultimately for whom I speak. I’m not going to list all the pieces of my identity here, which in and of itself can feel like a very colonial and destructive act. I have to break myself down and rearrange myself in categories designed by colonial thought. I do, however, acknowledge that I am positioned between various contradictions of power and marginality. It is contending with all the contradictions of being both marginalized and privileged in academia along with being both oppressed and complicit in this system that I sometimes wonder, who am I speaking for in my work? Which identities and what power dynamics do I centre, mix or ignore in my work? From which place am I approaching my work, one from complicity or one from resistance, or both at the same time? I must take pause at times and work through the disorientation before getting back to my writing and research. I think exploring internationalization from a decolonial lens has heightened this issue for me as much of this work is within a context of fixing people to places and conceptualizing their belonging based on their national identities. Being a settler within a diasporic community, and not necessarily being able to contain my identity within one national border, poses another set of contradictions and disorientation to work through. I have, however, learned to inhabit these spaces with some comfort and hope as these very contradictions also offer onto-epistemological doorways to pluriversal possibilities; and being able to tap into that is foundational to my approach to decolonizing internationalization in higher education.

“Internationalization on Incommensurate Grounds” by Milad Mohebali, University of Iowa 

There is not a week that something worrisome has not happened in Iran during the several years I have been studying in the United States as an international student. Multi-million-dollar construction projects have been popping up alongside individuals putting themselves on fire in public and committing suicide; the value of the rial against the dollar has dropped ten times and inflation has soared. Pollution, environmental decay, and global warming are just the cherries on top. Here in the US, I’m looking into theories, disciplines, traditions, searching for answers, anything really, that can give me some hope. From Black feminist thought to ethnic studies, liberatory and transformative education to abolitionist praxis, postcolonial resistance to decolonization, I have found wisdom from those who struggled against various systemic forces. It felt like I was finally getting closer to the “right” answers when this question struck me, “how am I different from settler colonizers who thought their ways of understanding the world were the ‘right’ ways that now needed to be unleashed upon people whose spirituality and cosmologies did not translate into their righteous ways of knowing and being?” I think about this question quite often and I wonder what does an “ethics of incommensurability” (Tuck & Yang, 2012) look like within a landscape of knowledge that is itself abound with territorialization and power? I have come to appreciate, rather than reduce, the complexities of a decolonial world-making. I have come to embrace discomfort as the necessary companion to decolonial research even when I find myself stubbornly entrenched in the metaphorization of decolonization.

“Internationalization and the Exile of the Self” by Anushay Irfan Khan, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Theories, praxis and the lived realities of internationalization have and continue to develop within the fabric of my life. My experience growing up in Pakistan – a ‘former’ British colony – followed by my arrival in Canada as an international student and, later as a woman of color navigating settler-migrant politics, continue to expose me to the politics of internationalization and continue to have profound impacts on the mind, body, and spirit. Some of these lived experiences have been forms of ‘consensual internationalization’ while others are rooted deeply in the colonial politics and realities of internationalization thrust upon the colonized body, mind, and spirit under the pretenses of an innocent ‘civilizing mission.’ Other experiences with internationalization have been carefully curated under the language of multiculturalism, equity, diversity and inclusion yet have continued to create the conditions for the soul being “disfigured” and “destroyed” (Fanon, 1963, p. 210) while also caught in the web of internationalization. It is this web of internationalization – consensual and violent, past and present – that has led to an ongoing disconnection from my Indigeneity and land – an exile from the most valuable parts of oneself (Somé, 1995 p. 97-98). Bissoondath (2002, p. 224) describes this disconnect between the self and identity as “psychic surrender” where the mind, body and soul in exile are in constant search of self-restoration and identity (Shahjahan, 2005) while also being deeply entangled in consensual and violent forms of internationalization. How does one survive in the conundrums of internationalization when its careful ‘neutral’ exoticism is facilitated by relations between the colonizer and the colonized? When internationalization’s seemingly innocent portrayal conceals the histories and realities of ongoing violence? How do we collectively navigate the decolonial and anti-colonial while standing firmly and seeking validation from a colonial system? How does one reclaim and resist within structures of internationalization by centering identity and Indigeneity when an exile from the self has injured the mind, body, and spirit? 

“Unpacking the Master’s Tools…Exploring Epistemological Disobedience” by Abu Arif, Memorial University 

The land in which I am pursuing my doctoral studies and writing this text is the ancestral homeland of the Beothuk. I came to this land via a long journey that started in Bangladesh. As a racialized doctoral student, I find myself walking a thin rope when speaking and writing about applying a decolonial lens to internationalization of higher education in Western academia. In these spaces, like many other racialized bodies, I find myself as both “marginalized by” and “complicit in” the system. My initial desire to pursue doctoral studies was to contribute to the educational spaces that are trying to repair higher education by looking at the connection between knowers and their land relationship. I was encouraged by the idea that we can change the system only from within. However, in my second year of doctoral studies, I contested the aforementioned notion that is best described by Audre Lorde – “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The critical approach is not enough to stop systemic violence. The tension between “repair” and “dismantle” the system also leads to the following question – what are the risks I face and the responsibilities I have when I am working from a decolonial lens? In other words, given the coloniality of epistemologies that operate in Western academia, what are the risks I face by being epistemologically disobedient? Moreover, if I follow the colonial convention of doctoral research, then what am I offering to the discourse on the Western hegemony of knowing and being? Despite the fear that grips me at times, it is the thought that we live in a world of too much wrong, and that one must be courageous to try to minimize these injustices, what gives me the strength to engage in decolonial thoughts. 


As emerging scholars, we are navigating these tensions when talking about decolonization given our positionalities and places we occupy. These tensions are complex, multilayered and ongoing. In the process of earning a doctorate, we do not want to lose our most valued parts. We are committed to be there for each other as we navigate these tricky paths, and we believe in each other that we will. We conclude this post with some questions that we hope invite reflection.

  1. What kinds of relationships are we nurturing with each other, with our communities, and with the lands we are inhabiting?
  2. What are the risks we face and responsibilities we have when we are working on areas like decolonization, internationalization of higher education, and epistemic justice/injustice/diversity? 
  3. Who do we speak for in our scholarly pursuits? 
  4. How do we deal with epistemic injustice in our work and how do we use epistemic disobedience as a tool to navigate the doctoral journey?
  5. When and how do we refuse to subject ourselves to trauma and/or become sources of trauma consumption in academia?

About the Authors

Abu Arif is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Education and a member of  the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) at Memorial University. Their research areas are epistemic justice, decolonial approaches to internationalization of higher education, and citational politics.  

Anushay Irfan Khan is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Anushay’s work is rooted in antiracist, feminist, Indigenous, anticolonial ways of knowing with a specific interest in anti-colonial/decolonial education and processes of internationalization in Higher Education.

Milad Mohebali is a doctoral candidate in Educational Policy and Leadership Studies at the University of Iowa with a minor in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. Milad’s research centers on social justice, decolonization, and anti-racism, in (international) higher education.

Punita Lumb is a Ph.D. student in Higher Education and Comparative, International Development Education with OISE, University of Toronto. Her research focuses on decolonial approaches to practices in Higher Education. Punita is also the Associate Director for the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Toronto.


Bissoondath, N. (2002). Selling illusions: The cult of multiculturalism in Canada. Penguin.

Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of the earth. Grove Press.

Lorde, A. (1984) The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. In Audre L. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (pp. 110-114). Crossing Press.

Nagar, R. (2019). Hungry translations: The world through radical vulnerability. Antipode, 51(1), 3–24.

Shahjahan, R. A. (2005). Mapping the Field of Anti-Colonial Discourse to Understand Issues of Indigenous Knowledges: Decolonizing Praxis. McGill Journal of Education / Revue Des Sciences de l’éducation de McGill, 40(2), Article 2.

Somé, M. P. (1995). Of water and the spirit: Ritual, magic, and initiation in the life of an African shaman.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), Article 1.

Considering Globalized Christian Supremacy in our Discourse about Higher Education Internationalization

By: Sachi Edwards, Soka University

Author bio: Sachi Edwards is a Lecturer (tenure-track) in the Graduate School of International Peace Studies at Soka University in Tokyo, Japan. With graduate degrees in religious studies and international education policy, she brings an interdisciplinary perspective to the study of internationalization, globalization, and inter-cultural education.

Earlier this year, I moved from the US to Japan and started a new position at Soka University—an overtly Buddhist institution in a country where Christians make up less than 2% of the population. When I reviewed the academic calendar, I was shocked to learn that our fall semester (which begins mid-September and ends in late January) has a full two-week break scheduled, starting a few days before Christmas. Of course, since I have spent the bulk of my academic career researching how Christian supremacy is embedded in higher education (both in the US and globally), this piqued my interest. I started asking around, and learned from my Japanese friends and colleagues that having Christmas off is not common in Japanese universities; after all, it’s not a recognized national holiday, and it’s right in the middle of a semester! “Ahh, yes,” many of them said, “but perhaps it’s an effort to make the academic calendar internationally compatible.” What they didn’t say, but what I knew all too well, was that (Western) Christian culture is globally dominant and that having a two-week break over Christmas would be pleasing to the kinds of international students and faculty Japanese universities may be trying to recruit. 

Indeed, the Japanese government has been actively promoting and funding higher education internationalization initiatives for the last 30 years or so, and concerns about the (in)compatibility of the academic calendar are often cited as a barrier to student and researcher mobility (Ota, 2018). When I dug deeper, I realized that among those institutions receiving special government funding for the express purpose of raising their international profiles (my university is one of them), many of them similarly have a two-week break over Christmas. This is particularly interesting to me because, in discourse about the Christian supremacy embedded in US higher education, the academic calendar is regularly one of the most prominent topics raised. So, how does the example of my Japanese Buddhist university’s Christmas break open up a conversation about how Christian supremacy in higher education is increasingly a global phenomenon, perpetuated in part by internationalization efforts? Where do Christianity and Christian supremacy fit into our discourse about how dominant models of internationalization are entangled with the spread of Westernization, marketization, and neocolonialism? I offered my reflections on these questions in my recent presentation to the Critical Internationalization Studies network, and will summarize them briefly below. 

A core tenant of critical religious studies scholarship is that theistic belief and rules governing behavior are inappropriate metrics for defining religion. Instead, a more inclusive and accurate way to understand religion is to examine the way it shapes a society’s norms and values. From this perspective, the Christian cultural worldview is foundational to what we understand as modern Western secularism and science. Sociologists explain this (Durkheim, 1912/1995; Spickard, 2017), decolonial scholars explain this (Mignolo, 2011; Quijano, 2000), and those who approach the study of religion from a non-Christian framework explain this (Deloria, 2003; Masuzawa, 2005). Christian supremacy, then, is the idea that the Christian cultural worldview at the heart of Western secularism and science is superior to other onto-epistemologies; and it is spread around the world in part through internationalization efforts that attempt to universalize Western approaches to teaching, learning, inquiry, mobility, financing and determining quality.  

Western models of teaching, learning, and inquiry, for instance, emphasize liberal education and positivist empirical science, along with the assumption that these approaches are culturally neutral and universally applicable. Liberalism and rationalism, however, are products of the Enlightenment—i.e., they developed in a culturally Christian context—and maintain important elements of the Christian worldview such as individualism, universalism, anthropocentrism, and linear time. Yet, we rarely name liberal education and Western science as being Christian. Instead, their supposedly neutral, secular status is used to position them as modern and superior to any pedagogy or philosophy deemed religio-culturally rooted.

Likewise, the idea that we can and should develop instruments to compare education systems and institutions across disparate contexts relies on the universalizing logic of the Christian worldview. Tröhler and Maricic (2021) explain how ideas about standardization that began with the Scottish Protestant Reformation were then institutionalized by Christians at Teachers College and the Carnegie Foundation, and eventually led to the creation of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The same movement led to the creation and popularization of global university rankings that are so influential today—rankings that consistently place Christian-origin institutions at the top; e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, Yale, Harvard, and others. As Shahjahan and Edwards (2021) note, those institutions then guide the aspirations of institutions around the world. 

The marketization that comes along with the spread of Westernization and competition for high ranking should also be recognized as a Christian export. Capitalism, after all, was developed by the Church and imposed on colonies as a system of labor and economy that would ensure the maintenance of the Church’s financial and political power. Both then and now, acceptance of capitalism is seen as a marker of modernity and progress, manifesting in higher education through, among other things, the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Even the way we understand mobility is shaped by Christianity. Through colonialism, and the process of political decolonization in some places, the Church established nation state borders that did not previously exist, and were usually quite arbitrary. The creation of those borders has had extremely violent effects that many communities around the world are still experiencing; the partitioning of India/South Asia, for example. Yet, these borders are how we define what is (inter)national, erroneously homogenizing diverse communities within those arbitrary borders. 

My work in Japan has exposed me to histories and current practices of internationalization within higher education that exemplify both the global nature of Christian supremacy and resistance to it. I encourage others to consider the ways Christian supremacy functions in the forms and contexts of internationalization you operate within. Then, importantly, I encourage you to overtly name Christian supremacy when you write or talk about internationalization. Ignoring it—the way it masquerades as secularism; the way it intersects with White supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism; and the way it perpetuates epistemicide—simply allows Christian supremacy to proceed unchecked. To be sure, there’s much more we need to learn and understand about Christian supremacy in higher education internationalization, and we need to be willing to talk about it in order to do that. 


Deloria Jr. V. (2003). God is red: A Native view of religion (30th anniversary edition). Fulcrum Publishing. 

Durkheim, É. (1995). The elementary forms of the religious life. (K. Fields, Trans.). New York, NY: Free Press. (Original work published 1912)

Masuzawa, T. (2005). The invention of world religions, or, How European universalism was preserved in the language of pluralism. University of Chicago Press.

Mignolo, W. (2011). The darker side of Western modernity. Duke University Press.

Ota, H. (2018). Internationalization of higher education: Global trends and Japan’s challenges. Educational studies in Japan: International yearbook, 12(2018), 91-105.

Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Nepantla: Views from South, 1(3), 533-580. 

Shahjahan, R. A. & Edwards, K. T. (2021). Whiteness as futurity and globalization of higher education. Higher Education.

Spickard, J. (2017). Alternative sociologies of religion: Through non-Western eyes. New York: New York University Press.

Tröhler, D. & Maricic, V. (2021). Data, trust and faith: The unheeded religious roots of modern education policy. Globalisation, Societies and Education.