Academic staff and international engagement in Australian higher education
AuthorProctor, Douglas John
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2016 Dr. Douglas John Proctor
Australian higher education appears to be in the vanguard of internationalisation worldwide. In line with global changes to higher education, Australian universities have adopted comprehensive international strategies across their teaching, research and outreach agendas. By many measures, this strategic approach to internationalisation has been successful. Given the central role of academic staff within the life of the university, and with international strategies now touching on all aspects of a university’s activity, academic staff are important to the further internationalisation of Australian higher education. Yet little is known about the factors which influence the international engagement of Australian academics (that is, their involvement with the international dimensions of all aspects of their work) and the extent to which they consider international activities an important aspect of their academic work. This study has investigated the engagement of academic staff with the international dimensions of their work. It sought to identify the extent to which different aspects of international engagement have been integrated into contemporary understandings of academic work in Australia, as well as to examine the factors which influence academic staff choices in relation to their international engagement. Based on an Adaptive Theory approach (Layder, 1998), the research took case studies of two universities – a younger progressive university and an older research intensive university – which, between them, are broadly representative of one third of the Australian university sector. Qualitative data were collected through document analysis and in-depth interviews with thirty-seven academic staff drawn from Science and Business disciplines. The study found that the international dimensions of academic work are predominantly centred on research, despite the literature on internationalisation pointing to a more comprehensive focus and despite institutional strategies advocating for a more balanced approach to international engagement. In terms of contributions, the study has conceptualised a typology of international engagement to address the gap identified in the literature in relation to a holistic understanding of the international dimensions of academic work. Further findings are presented in relation to the influence of institutional and disciplinary context, as well as personal and individual factors. Particular to the Australian context is a finding in relation to geographic isolation, which is commonly described as both a driver and barrier to the international engagement of Australian academic staff. This study argues that institutions need to recognise the complex and interweaving nature of the factors which influence academic staff in relation to the international dimensions of their work. This recognition is important if institutions seek to foster greater international involvement amongst their academic community. In addition, institutions could review the role of leadership at the local level in fostering greater international engagement beyond research, as well as reconsider the availability of funding and technology to mitigate the barrier to international engagement of Australia’s distance from other countries.
Keywordsinternationalisation; international education; academic staff; Australia; higher education; international engagement; case study; international strategy; disciplines
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