Making Sense of Internationalization via Strategic International Research Partnerships. Faculty Members' Experiences in a Canadian University

  • Author / Creator
    Akalu, Girmaw Abebe
  • The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of academics at the University of Alberta who were involved in strategic international research partnerships with institutions located in two overseas countries both as part of their university’s commitment to internationalization and the provincial government’s interest to establish long-lasting economic relations with the two countries. More specifically the study was intended to find out the meaning these academics attributed to internationalization in the context of these partnerships, the rationales undergirding their international engagement, and the implications of these on their professional practices in their home university. The following central research question guided the study: How do faculty members engaged in strategic international research partnerships with overseas institutions chronicle their experiences of internationalization? In order to locate the present study in broader and pertinent scholarly works, the literature review particularly focused on the intersections between globalization, internationalization and the discourse of the knowledge-based economy. Further, in order to examine whether academics in this study reproduced the discourses of commercialization and/or entrepreneurism in their narratives of their international experiences, I employed a theoretical framework informed by globalization and academic capitalism. To achieve the study’s purposes, I employed a qualitative case study methodology (Yin, 2014) based on the naturalistic paradigm (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) with a focus on understanding the subjective experiences of participants. The overall purpose was “to capture the deep meaning of experience in the participants’ own words” (Marshall & Rossman, 2011, p. 93) while maintaining the view that participants’ realities are subjective, differing from one another (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Sources of data for this study included document analysis, reflective journals and 25 semi-structured interviews with 16 faculty members involved in the two strategic international partnerships at the university. Data were analyzed using conventional qualitative data analysis techniques including coding for themes and categories, writing analytical memos, offering interpretations, doing constant comparative analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Marshall & Rossman, 2011), and finally asking key questions throughout the data analysis. Analysis of data resulted in the following key findings. First, there emerged competing voices on the meaning of internationalization. Internationalization was understood as branding an institution internationally, as a cross-border activity comprising exposure to a new location and condition, collaboration with overseas partners, communication/connection among scholars, a learning encounter which involves knowledge sharing between academics, and, finally, an opportunity where academics developed their intercultural sensitivity and competence. Second, the rationales for international engagement included extending academic horizons, reputation and profile building for academics as well as exposure to a different academic culture where academics learned new practices. Third, the study indicated that international engagement was important for enhancing academic quality, for learning new practices from a different academic context, for the integration of the international dimension in the curricula and for enhancing students’ intercultural competence. The study concluded that even though faculty members saw internationalization from its educational and socio-cultural benefits, they also articulated the economic and the reputational benefits of their international experiences. This was evident not only in their framing of internationalization as branding but also by rationalizing their international engagement as a means of access to funds as well as for advancing their own international reputation and profile. Recommendations in this study included the need to conduct further studies across the university in order to better understand how faculty members understand internationalization from their unique disciplinary perspectives; to take stock of lessons learned from international partnerships so as to better inform future internationalization policy within the institution, and finally the need to take an ethical approach to internationalization; that is; to reframe internationalization within the institution broadly as “a vital means to achieving global-level civic engagement, social justice and social responsibility and, ultimately, the common good” (Rickets & Humphries, 2015). Finally, this study was significant because it offered a grounded, contextualized and an original account of the meaning of and rationales for internationalization from academics who were actually engaged in international partnerships with overseas universities. Equally important were faculty members’ accounts of the impact of their international engagement on their professional practices in their own university.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Specialization
    • Educational Administration and Leadership
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Goddard, Tim J. (Faculty of Education, University of Prince Edward Island)
    • da Costa, Jose (Educational Policy Studies)
    • Simmt, Elaine(Secondary Education)
    • Kanuka, Heather (Educational Policy Studies)