“Internationalization is basically about diversity”

Interview | by Michiel Bakker

July 12, 2022 † Anyone who wants to teach a child international skills must teach them to embrace diversity. That’s what internationalization is all about, says Robert Coelen, outgoing associate professor at NHL Stenden. He advocates seeing internationalization as diversity and understanding diversity as something beyond inclusion; it is also instrumental. “Diversity and inclusion often relate to visible characteristics such as skin color and gender. But you have to judge people by their merits, also in terms of diversity. ”

Robert Coelen at VGTU

He worked for a long time as a molecular virologist, in that capacity he began to supervise PhD students in science and was then for many years responsible for recruiting international students at various Australian universities, until Leiden University brought him to the Netherlands. He eventually became an Associate Professor of Internationalization of Higher Education at the NHL Stenden. Recently, Robert Coelen officially resigned from that position, though it is too dear to him to guide PhD students to quit. However, he buries the subject of his professorship when he retires as an associate professor. His message is that internationalization does not stand alone.

Internationalization for all education

About six years ago, Coelen created one Center for the Internationalization of Education op, a collaboration between the NHL Stenden and the University of Groningen campus in Friesland. Coelen was promised that there would be room for PhD students and began recruiting. It quickly became apparent that all graduates came from the practice of internationalization itself, which resulted in their research being heavily inspired by practice.

That background contributes to the success of the PhD students, the proud Coelen believes. “So far, we have had 100 percent success with manuscripts that we submit for publication. This is partly due to the fact that our employees come from the field and therefore know the relevant issues. The editors of the journals we publish in often come from that field and know the issues so they immediately see the value of that research. It is science at the highest level and very much inspired by practice. ”

That this practice does not only concern higher education is a conscious choice, says Coelen. “I have center very consciously focused on ‘education’, not just on higher education. It has to do with my perception that one should start with internationalization when someone is very young, even though it is not yet called internationalization. If internationalization only takes place in higher education, I call it ‘the major repair operation† then it’s too late. ”

‘Internationalization’ falls under ‘diversity’

Understanding why internationalization should play a role from an early age can be difficult, Coelen realizes. “In Friesland, we are working to establish a continuous learning track for ‘internationalization’. That phrase is fine for now, but when I look at the website of 40 elementary schools, I can not find a word about internationalization. So it is better to do it under a different heading, and rightly so. What does a small primary school in Dokkum need with internationalization? ”

That question may seem rhetorical – until Coelen explains that the rhetoric is too narrow. Internationalization is basically about diversity, he claims. Around the year 2000, researchers at the University of Groningen developed a Multicultural Personality Questionnaire (MPQ), in which five characteristics are measured: Cultural empathy, openness, social initiative, emotional stability and flexibility. This MPQ predicts intercultural behavior. When I say ‘intercultural’, people immediately think of nationality and ethnicity. If you then read how, for example, Geert Hofstede defines ‘culture’, it says nothing about nationality and ethnicity. A culture can also be a corporate culture, a gender culture, a religious culture and so on. ”

For example, the trait ‘cultural empathy’ in MPQ is almost exclusively about empathy and hardly about culture. Culture is not discussed at all in the other four dimensions. “The result of MPQ could therefore be used to deal with any kind of diversity. I therefore believe that MPQ can predict the extent to which a person can get along well with others; you can also use MPQ to predict how to handle generic diversity. ”

The same goes for another reputable test in the field, the Cultural Intelligence Questionnaire, Coelen says. “If you put the two tests against the crossbar, they can suffice for any kind of diversity. That is the basis of my argument for presenting ‘internationalization’ as ‘diversity’.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Back to education. Anyone who learns to embrace diversity in primary and lower secondary school can extend this to interdisciplinary collaboration in higher education, says Coelen. How does it translate into internationalization? “Easy. When I have twenty-year-old students on our extracurricular honors program at the NHL Stenden working together in an interdisciplinary way to solve a reality problem, one can hear their surprise that there are so many different perspectives. In the workplace, they will also experience “How useful it is when people with all sorts of different perspectives and professional backgrounds think about one issue. This is where you gather the people you need, and that is something we have to teach in the educations.”

It can be very simple. “Take an international class with business students. I get him to write a business plan to do business in the Chinese market. Do you know who has suddenly become very popular? The Chinese students in the classroom.”

Diversity has instrumental value

Learning to embrace diversity therefore has not only Picturesfunction, Coelen emphasizes. “It makes it short. You simply have to learn to deal with other nationalities. For example, a researcher from Poznan has shown that an international collaboration in science gives two to nine times greater chance of publication, depending on the field of study. So it does your job. better.”

That is not the only example. In 2013, Uzzi and colleagues demonstrated in an article in Science after analyzing eighteen million articles that highly cited articles is deeply rooted in a particular discipline and is written by a team of researchers with an ‘outsider’ in them. ” In science, the latter characteristics can be referred to as multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary, but Coelen is preoccupied with the root of this: embracing diversity.

Teach children that they can use diversity

The instrumental use of diversity, illustrated with the above examples, is important for the understanding of diversity. If you approach this too much in relation to inclusion, you do not do enough, says Coelen. “We want more women at the top,” says Coelen, “but why? Not out of pity, I suppose. Let someone say that women often have a different approach to things, therefore they are needed at the top. Diversity and inclusion “Often refers to visible traits such as skin color and gender. However, people should be judged on their merits, also in terms of diversity. If your approach to diversity does not go beyond ticking and calculating percentages, I think it is bad.”

Therein lies the task of all education, starting with young children: diversity is not only important, it also adds value. “The principle that someone who is different brings different qualities and opportunities is very simple, but it is often not made explicit. Take the Black Lives Matter movement. In response, if you start teaching racism, it goes in one ear and out the other. You better think of teaching children that racial diversity is something they can take advantage of. ”

It is precisely the instrumental use of diversity that can convince people who initially have little interest in diversity. Coelen supervises a PhD student who has developed a study in which a distinction is made between a generic and a task-relevant understanding of diversity. “People who initially do not feel much for working with a diversity of others can be persuaded if it suddenly becomes task-relevant. Then they discover how many opportunities open up. ”

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