Framing International Student Responsibility

By Ly Tran, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, Deakin University (Australia)

Understanding international student responsibility and institutional responsibility towards international students is essential to ensure and enhance the well-being and educational experience of this group. However, international student responsibility is a notion that is often neglected. Research on student responsibility concentrates exclusively on domestic students and is framed predominantly within the school context in relation to classroom discipline, learning and citizenship education. In practice, the extent to and the ways in which international students and involved parties including parents, teachers, host universities and host communities are responsible for the education, wellbeing and development of international students are rarely spelled out. How to support and gear students towards building and enacting responsibility in an educationally, culturally and ethically productive ways is little known either.

International student responsibility and their capacity to exercise responsibility should not be framed merely within the academic domain. Instead it should be viewed from a relational stance that takes into account the diverse tangible and intangible interrelated aspects of cross-border mobility status. International student responsibility transcends the classroom boundary, extending to the home and host communities and other relationships that have been formed via their mobility experiences. Spatial, intellectual and cultural mobility as a result of overseas education shapes and reshapes students’ perception of their own responsibility and the ways in which they enact their responsibility. Being in educational mobility provides them with the unique transnational social fields to develop responsibility towards the home and host country. This also gives students the condition to perceive and develop responsibility for global citizenship.

International students can exercise both personal and social responsibility. Personal responsibility is the responsibility towards the self as an actor in international education and a member in the classroom community, the social community as well as their family. This is interrelated with the social responsibility. These dimensions of responsibility can be fluid, dynamic and complex as they involve both a sense of obligation and sense of intrinsic commitment. Personal responsibility encompasses the obligation towards their academic learning as well as wellbeing. The status of international students is also often interconnected with a responsibility to ensure a return in their investment in overseas education. In some cultures, efforts towards acquiring a good academic, financial and social return in investment in international education are intimately embedded in the responsibility to fulfil their filial duty and respond to the family’s aspirations.

International student responsibility should also be seen in parallel with their capacity to exercise responsibility. One’s capacity for responsibility can be shifting or developing due to their engagement in cross-border life and in pursuit of education far away from family support and out of cultural comfort zone. Student responsibility is associated with their capacity for rational agency (Ericson and Ellet, 1990:4). Both personal capacity and external opportunities to exercise their agency are essential for students to act responsibly (Bandura, 1977). As personal capacity as well as individual perceptions of responsibility vary among students, the extent to which they act responsibly also differs. Enhancing student responsibility is indeed nurturing good citizenship.

Within the neoliberal commercialisation principle that drives international education, host institutions have been seen to largely hold accountability for providing the educational services for international students who are often positioned as consumers. This practice has to some extent drawn attention away from questions about institutional responsibility for building student capacity for exercising both personal and social responsibility. The locus of institutional responsibility should extend beyond simply providing the educational services to actually enabling international students to develop full capacity to enact responsibility in educationally, culturally and morally productive ways. In order to achieve this, it is important for host institutions to ensure the productive conditions and external opportunities for international students to exercise responsibility as intercultural members and learners. It is also important for host institutions not to ignore the ways in which student mobility intersects with personal agency and personal capacity as well as multiple and transnational logics of legal, social, cultural and academic practices in viewing international student responsibility.

References:

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Ericson, D. P., & Ellett, F. S. (1990). Taking student responsibility seriously. Educational researcher, 19(9), 3-10.

Interested to find out more? Join Ly Tran and other panellists in the Thursday morning session “Revisiting the responsibility of international students: perspectives from students, institutions and research” at AIEC 2015 in Adelaide this October!

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