Profile: Josbeelen

PhD: Obstacles and enablers to internationalising learning outcomes in Dutch universities of applied sciences

Institution: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Supervisors: Hans de Wit, Betty Leask

0% Completed

PhD Description

Executive summary     

Internationalisation of higher education has been undergoing major shifts in the last fifteen years. One of these has been the increased emphasis on forms of internationalisation that reach the non-mobile majority of students. The introduction of the term ‘internationalisation at home’ has been described as a “significant development in the conceptualisation of internationalisation” (Knight, 2013, 85). The original definition of internationalisation at home, developed in 2001, was: “Any internationally related activity with the exception of outbound student and staff mobility” (Crowther et al., 2001, p. 8). The European Commission (2013) acknowledged the significance of internationalisation at home when it included the concept in European educational policy. The European Parliament Study identified internationalisation of the curriculum as an emerging focal point in Europe and the rest of the world. It recommended that universities pay more attention to the importance of internationalisation at home including integration of international and intercultural learning outcomes into the curriculum for all students (De Wit et al., 2015, p. 27; 30). The mounting interest in learning outcomes for internationalisation was also confirmed by the 4th Global Survey of the International Association of Universities (Egron-Polak & Hudson, 2014, p. 103). Furthermore, accreditation organisation can utilise internationalised learning outcomes as indicators to assess the quality of internationalisation and these form the core of the Certificate for Quality in Internationalisation (CeQuInt), developed by the European Consortium for Accreditation (Aerden, 2015). While the internationalisation of learning outcomes is receiving an increasing amount of attention, its implementation has been marked by a range of obstacles and enablers. While the existing literature has identified some general indications (such as lack of resources and lack of skills of academics), it has predominantly originated in countries in which English is the standard language of instruction. Beyond two general studies on internationalisation at home (Van Gaalen et al., 2014a, 2014b), which appeared while this study was in progress, there has been very little research on how obstacles and enablers affect the internationalisation of learning outcomes in Dutch universities of applied sciences. This study addresses the following research question: What are the obstacles and enablers that affect the internationalisation of learning outcomes in selected business programmes in Dutch universities of applied sciences? The findings of this study add to knowledge in the field, and in particular, offer insights into the complicated process of internationalising learning outcomes. This study not only researched the actions and experiences of lecturers, but also considered the roles of other stakeholders and their influence on the process. The context determines the configuration of different types of obstacles and enablers: external, disciplinary, internal and personal (Leask & Bridge, 2013, 81). By exploring this topic in a Dutch context, within universities of applied sciences and in a comparative approach, this study addresses several of the field’s research gaps (Jones 2013a, p. 31).

Research design

This study’s core was qualitative research into six individual business programmes at two Dutch universities of applied sciences. The research took place between 2012 and 2015. Since little is known about internationalisation of learning outcomes in Dutch higher education, the study employed a grounded theory method (Charmaz, 2006). While a grounded theory method has been applied for the Dutch context, a review of a considerable body of non-Dutch literature is also included in this study. This has taken place at three levels: (1) concepts and definitions of internationalised curricula (chapter 3), (2) rationales and approaches to implementing internationalised curricula (chapter 4), (3) obstacles and enablers identified in the first two sections (chapter 5). Data on the Dutch context were collected from the limited volume of literature on the internationalisation of learning outcomes in The Netherlands. A document analysis of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Science and Culture’s internationalisation policies provided additional data, as did those of other national organisations, such as the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. Within the individual programmes, semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants engaged in the process of internationalising learning outcomes: managers, quality assurance officers, educational developers and international officers. The core methodology consisted of participatory action research with lecturers at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and HAN University of Applied Sciences. The study evaluated two international programmes at each university: International Business and Management Studies (taught in English) and International Business and Languages (taught in English at one university and in Dutch at the other) and one domestic programme: Marketing (taught in Dutch). After the within-case analyses (chapters 7 and 8) were completed, an across-case analysis was conducted (chapter 9), resulting in the identification of a range of specific obstacles and enablers, some of which are unique to this study, confirming the contribution of this study to the field. To avoid possible bias, a reflexive approach has been followed throughout the study. Observations and reflections on the facilitator/researcher’s role and position form a separate section in chapter 9.


Outcomes of this study

The research for this study has contributed towards my understanding of internationalisation at home and towards the publication of a new definition: “Internationalisation at Home is the purposeful integration of international and intercultural dimensions into the formal and informal curriculum for all students within domestic learning environments (Beelen & Jones, 2015, p. 76). This study yielded in insights into the relevance (or lack of relevance) of known obstacles and enablers at Dutch universities of applied sciences. In addition, this study led to more precise description of obstacles and enablers, and it also identified a range of previously unrecorded obstacles and enablers. Obstacles and enablers have been organised into four categories: external, disciplinary, internal and personal. External obstacles are beyond the control of universities and can be related to global or national developments, educational systems or legal restrictions. The field and its perspectives on research, teaching, and learning determine disciplinary obstacles and enablers. Internal obstacles are found within universities, faculties and programmes of study. Finally, personal obstacles are related to the skills of individual stakeholders in the process of internationalising learning outcomes.


Obstacles and enablers from the non-Dutch literature

         The non-Dutch literature, which includes some cases of business programmes (chapter 5) revealed a range of obstacles and enablers to the internationalisation of learning outcomes. Frequently mentioned among the obstacles are lack of resources and lack of skills, lack of engagement and lack of expertise of lecturers. Prominent enablers are learning from students (domestic students who had been abroad or incoming international students), travel with students, teaching assignments abroad and seminars and courses.


Obstacles and enablers from the Dutch context

In the Dutch context (chapter 6), the study identified a range of general external enablers: such as geographical position, a diverse population, a high level of English proficiency and a focus on internationalisation in secondary education. In contrast, the set of education related external enablers included, for example, policies for internationalisation by the Ministry of Education and international officers’ strong engagement in internationalisation at home. Certain factors were considered an obstacle by some Dutch authors and an enabler by others. This was the case with e.g. the vocational character of universities of applied sciences.


Obstacles and enablers from the case studies

Three programmes at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (chapter 7) were analysed in the context of their institution and faculty. The same approach was applied for the three programmes at HAN University of Applied Sciences (chapter 8). Both universities have internationalisation at home as a policy focus but do not have strategies for professional development in the field of internationalisation in place. The Basic Teaching Qualification Programme, an enabler at national level, does not have much effect since internationalisation is hardly addressed in it. Some of the obstacles and enablers which had already been identified in the literature, were confirmed by the case studies. This applies to mostly to general issues such as the engagement of lecturers in the internationalisation process, which is found globally, in the Dutch context and at the institutions investigated. While a number of known obstacles and enablers emerge from this study, some are placed in a different perspective. An example of this is lack of funding and resources, which is considered a main obstacle to internationalisation, both globally and in the Dutch context. This study however, shows a contrast between the well-equipped international offices that support the international programmes and the poorly resourced internationalisation coordinators in the domestic programmes. In these programmes, a tendency was observed to stress a lack of resources for internationalisation, which was magnified into a vast task (Magnification effect). Also, managers protected lecturers from internationalisation of the curriculum for fear of overburdening them (Cerberus effect). Within the previously identified practice of infusion (Bond, 2003), random and deliberate infusion can now be distinguished. The former indicates a process in which activities for internationalisation are added without previously determining outcomes. Deliberate infusion refers to adding activities that may help to achieve general outcomes (e.g. at graduation level) without these activities having been designed on the basis of these outcomes.


Key obstacles from the across-case analysis

While some obstacles are specific to international or domestic programmes, the across-case analysis revealed a set of related key obstacles that could be identified in all cases. A prominent external obstacle is that, while the accreditation framework requires programmes to internationalise their learning outcomes, in practice, accreditation does not convey a sense of urgency when they fail to do this. National profiles for the programmes (supervised by the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences) have resulted in collaborative isomorphism, which has caused programmes to conform to national standards rather than to explore internationalisation on their own terms. A key disciplinary obstacle in business programmes is the –almost exclusive- focus on the assessment of skills for intercultural communication as the main aspect of internationalisation. A main internal obstacle is of an educational nature. The Basic Teaching Qualification Programme, which does not have an effect on lecturers’ skills for internationalisation, also fails to equip lecturers with adequate skills to articulate learning outcomes. Another internal obstacle is the problematic implementation process. Relevant stakeholders are not engaged in the process of internationalising teaching and learning, in particular educational developers, who are instrumental in articulating learning outcomes. International coordinators in domestic programmes and intercultural communication specialists in international programmes often acted from an isolated position, with little influence to internationalise modules beyond those that they themselves teach. A key personal obstacle is the difficulty that lecturers experienced in contextualising internationalisation within their disciplines. The same applied to concepts such as global citizenship and the ethically responsible professional. This result is that programmes hardly benefit from a main enabler: international and intercultural learning opportunities in the local environment.


Key enablers from the across-case analysis

Disciplinary spaces, created by a facilitator/action researcher constitute a key enabler that compensated for the lack of professional development for internationalisation and the lack of internationalisation in the Basic Teaching Qualification Programme. Within these disciplinary spaces, the Framework for internationalisation of the curriculum and the connected process model by Leask (2012) proved effective guiding tools. However, this study suggests adaptations to the ‘imagine’ phase of the process model for the specific context of business programmes in Dutch universities of applied sciences. For this context, a main enabler, previously unidentified in the literature, is the introduction of employability skills as a guiding principle in the contextualisation of internationalisation. The wide scope of these employability (or transversal) skills served to broaden the discussion on internationalisation, which, particularly in the international programmes, was often narrowly focused on intercultural communication. Another enabler in the imagination phase was to bring the internationalisation of learning outcomes forward from the ‘revise and plan’ phase of Leask’s model into the ‘imagine’ phase. This alternative use of the ‘imagine’ phase has resulted in an adaptation of Leask’s process model for the specific context of Dutch universities of applied sciences. Another previously unidentified internal enabler emerged from this study: benchmarking learning outcomes with international partners.


Significance of the findings of this study

Grounded Theory.

The Grounded Theory that flows from this study postulates that enabling lecturers to internationalise learning outcomes in a Dutch university of applied sciences requires disciplinary spaces that provide support in three key areas: (1) contextualising internationalisation in the discipline on the basis of employability skills and to connecting the concept of internationalisation with other concepts such as global citizenship, (2) educational support in ‘crafting’ learning outcomes and aligning these with assessment, (3) connection with other stakeholders in the implementation process.


Further research.

The study contains a range of suggestions for further research within and outside the business discipline and within and outside The Netherlands.



The outcomes of this study have led to a plan of steps for the support of lecturers in internationalising learning outcomes through disciplinary spaces that resemble the participatory action research in this study. The establishment of such spaces is a recommendation to both managers and international officers.



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