Higher Education Internationalization from the Perspective of Urban Culture Space

Exploring New Methods for the Research on and Practice of the Higher Education Internationalization


Abstract: Among the researches done in the field of higher education internationalization, little attention is drawn to the City and Culture which are closely related to it. In actuality, modern cities are the physical environment for higher education internationalization and the development of culture also has a profound influence upon it. The introduction of space theory into this field connects urban culture with higher education internationalization. The researches on the latter from the perspective of the former should at least include the following content: its main elements, dynamic mechanism and historical and cultural values and so on. Such researches have great practical and theoretical significance.

Key Words: Higher Education, Internationalization, Urban Cultural Space, Interaction

In recent years, with the ongoing economic globalization, higher education internationalization becomes inevitable in order to keep abreast of social progress. Its development, on the one hand, is motivated by economic globalization. On the other hand, it's the corollary of the development of education itself. Through the long-term exploration and accumulation of experience, Chinese higher education has made great progress. It needs and is also qualified to show itself to the world and join in the competition of international higher education. Moreover, with the improvement of living standards, people have stronger financial strength to further their education. The combination of the various advantages is conducive to the rapid development of China's higher education internationalization.

At the same time, the city's speedy development and the extension of its cultural space have provided excellent opportunities for higher education, and its internationalization is just one of them. The interrelationship between these two is very obvious. The city's development has provided enough space for higher education internationalization and in return the latter is the fertile soil for the former.

Therefore, despite the increasing and spreading growth of higher education internationalization, the researches on its theories, especially the theories related to urbanization, are rather scarce, failing to promote its practice. This leads to its lack of direction and erratic development. Thus, it becomes extremely necessary to explore higher education internationalization from the perspective of urban culture.


The Current Status and the Development Direction of the Researches on the Internationalization of Higher Education

The researches on higher education internationalization have outstanding achievements with its ongoing practice. Many theses have expounded the current status of the researches on the theories of higher education internationalization. The Research Review of the Internationalization of Higher Education by Cheng Y. L., The Research Review of the Internationalization of Higher Education in China by Kong K. and The Research Review of the Internationalization of Higher Education in China since the 90s' by Xu J.N. are among them.

From 1994 to 2000, the researches on higher education internationalization mainly focus on the trend of the development, the political and economical stimulus, the introduction of experience from the western developed countries and China's stance and strategies and so on.

In recent years, with China's growing international involvement, the researches on the higher education internationalization made even greater progress than before. Search the key words the internationalization of higher education in the CJFD (Chinese Journal Full Texts Database) and there will be 140 articles on the core academic journals concerning this issue. Stepping into the 21st centaury, the researches in China, besides the above-mentioned aspects, emphasize more on its profound significance, international students, the WTO's influence, international cooperation in education, and the relationship between nationalization and internationalization. Among them, the great majorities of them are about the introduction of policies and experience from the western developed countries and the number of those about its relationship with WTO is surging. Moreover, heated discussions are provoked by its speeding growth in China, on the relationship between internationalization and localization, internationalization and nationalization, the strong and weak cultures (Xu, 2006).

It's not hard to find that although the researches on higher education internationalization have achieved a lot and is gradually maturing, they have their limitations to a certain extent. There is a researcher who pointed out that researches in this field flourished but they are sparsely valuable, and to some extent, reflect impracticality of educational researches which pursue the so-called hot topics; researches on education internationalization only pay tepid attention, have passive discussions or even cope with issues perfunctorily, lacking in participative attention to the establishment of the principles of the global education interaction; these researches mainly pivot around learning from the educational ideas, systems, curricula and methods abroad and, as a result, neglect the exploration and innovation in China. (Wu, 2004, p.59)

The reason for such a situation is that its researches, more often than not, mainly focus on the superficial phenomena and neglect the specific time, social and cultural environment of its emergence. Gu and Xue (1998) when discussing the direction of the researches on higher education internationalization pointed out two inevitable research objectives, namely, culture or education interaction in the new economic community; the internationalization and localization of educational knowledge. In terms of the specific time, social and cultural environment of the emergence of higher education, the development of economy and education stimulates the formation of urban cultural space and in return the latter become the dynamic for their development. And the interaction of these elements necessarily facilitates the development of social culture and the education internationalization. From this perspective, the research on the interaction between the urban cultural space and higher education internationalization has enormous significance for the exploration of its origination, principles and direction.

1.      The Inevitability of the Combination of the Two Research Fields: the Internationalization of Higher Education and the Urban Cultural Space

Although, among the researches already done, there are a few which touches upon issues like culture and nationalization and so on, the discussions on cultural issues generally are only sparsely dotted among various other issues. For instance, there are researchers, while expounding the significance of higher education, hold the view that higher education should be contextualized and nationalized and refer to the unique features of higher education internationalization in China. The so-called contextualization means that cultural tradition of the country and nation in question should also be emphasized while learning from earlier experience of other countries in order to innovate and develop independently. The so-called nationalization means that higher education should be aimed at serving its own country and the characteristics and advantages of its own educational tradition should be accentuated (Shu, 1998). These arguments intend to explain the features of the higher education in China through referring to the principles of education itself but never explain how such contextualization and nationalization are formed. And the inevitability of the combination of the two research fields: the internationalization of higher education and urban cultural space is shown through the following points:

1.1 The culture deeply influences the development of higher education

Actually, it is the traditional culture that promotes the contextualization and nationalization of higher education internationalization. There is a kind of latent relationship between culture and higher education. Compared with economical and political elements, the restrictive influence of culture is retarded and not obvious, but long-lasting and far-reaching. The higher education of China is not the product of economic form. Neither can its condition be explained by the restriction of political system. It should be understood through delving into the traditional cultural elements which are deeper and more unnoticeable. (Liu, 1996, p.27)

The influence of the traditional culture is not direct and obvious. Thus, it is often neglected. However, it plays a very important role in the formation and development of the higher education system. In China, our emphasis on higher education and recruitment of students only through unified examination are closely related to our traditional Confucius culture and specific social historical environment. Therefore, it is both theoretically and practically significant to explore culture's influence upon higher education and then figure out the model of interaction between culture and higher education.


1.2 The modern urban culture is the basic survival environment for the internationalization of higher education.

The higher education internationalization is accompanied by the modernization of the traditional culture while modern culture, to a certain degree, is produced by modern urban culture.

With the ongoing modernization and urbanization in China, the influence of urban culture starts to manifest itself. The city is the artificial environment for human beings own existence and development, and its development is not only a process of building physical environment but also a course of accumulating culture. During its evolution and metabolism, the city promotes human beings interactivities with its accumulated material and cultural resources. The city is not, in other words, merely a physical mechanism and an artificial construction. It is involved in the vital processes of the people who compose it; it is a product of nature, and particularly of human nature (Park, 1967, ix). According to this definition, the city means not only a certain geographical space but also a form of cultural space.

Therefore, on the one hand, higher education internationalization promotes the development of urban culture. Higher education internationalization promotes the communication between teachers and students, the sharing of educational resources, and the consensus on the principles and ideas of education. At the same time, each country starts to draw more attention to the positive effects of the internationalization on education, and try to accelerate the internationalization of economic growth and culture construction mainly through training international talents. The internationalization of education, economy and culture is, in itself, dependent upon that of the city itself. Opportunities of the city's development are brought by the introduction of advanced educational ideas and the exchange of international talents. In other words, education, city and culture are closely related and interact with each other.

On the one hand, the development of the urban culture necessarily encourages higher education internationalization. The construction of the city has a closer relationship with economic growth. As a representation for the city's development, urban culture and the city reciprocally promote each others' development. Higher education as one of the city components is also greatly influenced by urban culture.

Culture is also a method for the control of the city. Culture becomes more and more a source of business opportunities the consumption of culture and the development of the cultural industry promote the city's symbolic economy, namely the visible competence of its production of symbol and space(Bao, 2005, p.107).

The urban culture simultaneously stimulates the development of education internationalization and, to a certain extent, as the city's spirit and representation, guides the development of higher education.

1.3 The space perspective connects the researches on higher education internationalization and those on the urban culture.

Currently, the space theory is still inchoate. When the mutual influence between urban culture and higher education internationalization starts to become prominent, the introduction of space theory combines the two research fields effectively combines to do more theoretical explorations.

At the end of the 20th century, the academia has more or less witnessed the conspicuous space turn, which is regarded as a crucially important event for the development of knowledge and politics during the second half of the 20th centaury. The scholars start to have a brand new idea about the spatiality of the humanities and they all diverted their former focus on time, history, society and social relationship to the space. (Lu, 2004, p.1)

The researchers on space theories, such as David Harvey, Edward W. Soja, Henri Lefebvre, have explored them from the perspectives of time, space and society, etc. The researches on space theories start to appear for many reasons. Firstly, human existence should have its own spatial dimension and human life have its own spatial organization; secondly, the existence of society and its operation should have its own spatial dimension; thirdly, space is one of the basic categories of thinking and our basic cognitive structure.

The researches on the space theories provide new inspiration for the researches on higher education and urban culture. Higher education is, on the one hand, one of the ways of individual existence and on the other hand one of the forms of the social relationship organization. The international communication among teachers and students, the sharing of educational resources, the exchange of educational ideas and the innovation of the educational models, in whatever form, are social products. Edward W. Soja once said: Organization of space is a kind of social product that it arises from purposeful social practice (1989, p.80). That is to say, space, to a certain degree, has its own independence. Higher education internationalization develops in social space. There is no doubt that in modern society, the city, to a great extent, is the material basis for space. Space most often exists and operates in the form of cities.

The primary problem to be solved concerning the researches on the relationship between higher education internationalization and urban culture is how culture can be introduced into the researches on space theories.

Culture space is symbol space. It is the spatial form built upon human language, representational activities, and concepts of order which is not possessed by the animals. It's the space of introspection and the symbolization of biological and social space by human beings. However, this kind of symbolized space is not isolated from biological and social space but permeates into it. Human beings ideas of space influence their activities and social practice. (Feng, 2008, p.135)

Culture, seen from the perspective of space, is symbol. Everything in the realm of space, including higher education and other human activities, is represented in the cultural space. On the one hand, cultural space is the result of introspection on human activities and on the other hand it directs and influences human activities. From this point of view, higher education is the most suitable representation of this characteristic of cultural space.

The development of modern culture is always combined with urbanization and internationalization. The urban culture develops with globalization. The globalization of economy demands that urban culture develops with globalization. And absorption and radiation are two basic ways (He, n.d.). In other words, higher education internationalization, to a certain degree, is the precondition of and provides energy for the extension of urban cultural space.

Urban cultural space, namely the cultural studies from the perspective of space, is a place which is recognized by most of the residents, occupies certain physical space and embodies urban public culture. It is composed of 3 elements, namely, the people as its subjects, the cultural activities as its temporal structure node and the cultural sites as its spatial structure node (Wang, 2006). Urban cultural space extends incessantly with the globalization of economy and society, extending the subjects of higher education and changing incessantly their living environment, namely the change of the cultural activities and cultural sites.

Therefore, to explore the issue of the interrelationship between the expansion of urban cultural space and higher education internationalization with space theory is an effective method for investigating the latters cultural essence and also the prerequisite for the research on the development of urban culture itself.

2.        The Main Content of the Research on Higher Education Internationalization from the Perspective of Urban Cultural Space

From the perspective of space, the research on urban culture and higher education internationalization should at least include the subjects of urban cultural activities and education internationalization, the influence which the extension of the temporal and spatial dimension of urban culture has upon education internationalization and the reaction of the latter to the former and so on.

2.1 The extension of the subjects dimension in urban cultural space and the alteration of the subject of the internationalization of education

The extension of urban cultural space primarily means the extension of the subjects. The residents are the subjects who occupy urban cultural space and at the same time act as part of the urban cultural landscape. As the physical human beings, people of diverse age groups, different genders and educational backgrounds make up the city's considerably stable social strata; their daily life forms the backdrop of urban culture; as the social and geographical human beings, the individual is influenced by the city's regulations, customs and social cultural background and his cultural values are integrated into the mainstream culture of the city, which in return have reaction upon the latter, encouraging the development of the city's cultural system. The development of the human beings means the alteration of the educational subject, and to explore the influence of human beings life style upon higher education internationalization will have great significance for its development in China.

2.2 The extension of the urban cultural and regional space and the dynamic for education internationalization

Urban cultural space is not an empty thing, space itself is both a production, shaped through a diverse range of social processes and human interventions, and a force that, in turn, influences, directs and delimits possibilities of action and ways of human being in the world (Wolfreys, 2002, p.6)[13] Then, its easy to see that space has a close relationship with social reality and human activities. Henri Lefebvre has also proclaimed, space is never be empty: it always embodies a meaning. (1991, p.154) With urbanization in China at present, the extension of urban culture space is represented in the following aspects: the first one is the extension of the interaction between human beings and artificial environments; the second is the cultural symbolization of urban architecture space; the third is the changing distance between the country and the city, the cities at home and abroad. The existence of urbanization has provided physical conditions for education internationalization; the extension of the interaction between human beings and artificial environments supplies it with the energy on the basis of its native development; the third aspect is the shortening of physical distance and the widening of psychological distance, which shows the uncertainty of modern society and evokes a sense of insecurity and foreignness. Then, internationalization and localization of higher education becomes inevitable in order to remedy such problems in urban culture.

2.3 The extension of the temporal dimension of urban cultural space and the historical value of education internationalization

The city's modernization and urban culture development represented themselves diachronically. Zygmunt Bauman declared, The history of time began with modernity. Indeed, modernity is, apart from anything else, perhaps even more than anything else, the history of time: modernity is the time when time has a history (2000, p.110). The temporal significance of modern urban cultural space lies in the fact that it attains historical power through time. The inception, development and internationalization of higher education in China are just the interpretation on its transference into cultural memories. Just as the city's modernization, higher education internationalization is one of the features of modern education. From this perspective, there is consistency between the higher education internationalization and the extension of urban culture in the temporal dimension. The temporal extension of urban cultural space is represented in two aspects: the first one is in terms of direction, namely, China's transformation from a traditional agricultural culture into a modern urban one; the second one is in terms of standard, namely, the speed of the development of modern urban culture. The instrumental rationality of modern city turns speed into an important representation of time. From this perspective, higher education has played its role as an inheritor of culture through internationalization; the development of higher education internationalization offers an international perspective to the residents and thus provides them a place for psychological repose when they are confronted with the sense of evanescence, pressure, helplessness and hollowness.

Thus, we think that it is of great theoretical and practical significance to do researches on the higher education internationalization with the theory of modern urban cultural space. Theoretically speaking, they are aimed at discovering new theoretical support for the researches on theories of higher education internationalization in the cultural field and attempt to explore its mutual influence and promotion with urban culture; practically speaking, they intend to bring prosperity to urban culture through higher education internationalization, and provide new opportunities for the latter through the extension of urban culture space. And such researches also aspire to adapt higher education internationalization to the globalization of economy and, at the same time, the development of socialist urban culture, which will ultimately promote urbanization and modernization in China. After all, this article only suggests a possible mode of research in order to invite responses of more constructive ideas from other researches.



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