Global Responsibility in Finland: Egalitarian Foundations and Neoliberal Creep

Tiffany Viggiano
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 4  •  2019  •  pp. 245-262

This investigation examines 15 interviews at one critical case in Finland to explore the ways in which practitioners of higher education address the challenges associated with the pursuit of a global social good agenda. Employing the language of the participants, the purpose of this investigation is to explain the ways in which tertiary education practitioners conceptualize their “global responsibility” and how this concept aligns with the pursuit of a global social good agenda.

In many nations, at the domestic level, the pursuit of social good is considered a fundamental component of the university mission, but the same logic is not always applied internationally. Finland employs the concept of global responsibility to, presumably, address this mission. When social good is considered internationally, there is little direction on what this means or how to promote this goal. The ways in which practitioners actually define and navigate global social good at institutions of higher education is not researched.

This investigation is part of a larger research project funded by Fulbright Finland and the Lois Roth Endowment. Throughout the entirety of the investigation, I engaged in ten months of participant observation and collected interviews from actors within multiple Finnish institutions of higher education. Explorational interviews of other institutions of higher education allowed me to confirm that I had indeed selected a critical case. This investigation draws on 15 strategically selected interviews with higher education practitioners at the selected institution.

Unlike previous scholarship, this empirical work documents an example of an institution in which practitioners conceptualize internationalized higher education outside of the neoliberal hegemony. Although neoliberalism is certainly present, there is strong evidence of a critical/liberal foundation that enables resistance.

This investigation defines and operationalizes global responsibility and explains the duplicitous definitions of global responsibility—the critical/liberal and the neoliberal. In doing so, the investigation provides an example of an institution attempting to purposefully enact globally social good initiatives, and highlights the ways in which neoliberalism impedes a global social good agenda.

This research provides an empirical foundation for a non-neoliberal approach to internationalization from which to build higher education policy. Practitioners should consider pursuing the critical/liberal goals of global responsibility from within their own cultural context. Specific elements of importance elucidated by practitioner interviews in the Finnish context include need-based aid for international student tuition, international partnerships with non-affluent institutions, and open access publication. The ways in which neoliberal funding mechanisms distinctivize these global social good initiatives should also be considered.

Researchers should consider their own methodologically nationalist assumptions. Social good research that begins from the confies of the nation state selectively excludes most of the world’s most disadvantaged student populations. Within the national container, researchers limit their conception of global responsibility to the neoliberal.

This critical case demonstrates a disconcerting neoliberal creep that will likely lead to increasingly unjust internationalization. University internationalization efforts can and do contribute to global social inequality when policies are left unquestioned (Stein, 2016). Neoliberal global responsibility manifests many of the ethical perils of internationalization identified by neoliberal and critical internationalization scholars, such as assumptions of an equal playing field, win-win situations, nationalism, selective recognition of difference, and knowledge as universal (Harvey, 2007; Stein, 2016). The most salient examples documented here are the decision to charge international student tuition while offering only merit-based aid, as well as the decision to strategically partner with more economically advantaged institutions of higher education. In alignment with the theory of coloniality (Quijano, 2007), these decisions serve to reproduce global structural inequity by continuing to privilege those who have been historically privileged. Naming the action—neoliberal global responsibility—provides a platform from which to discuss, research, and resist this mechanism of global social injustice (Boris, 2005).

Future research should employ this operationalized frame of global responsibility (adapted for their own cultural context) to assess contributions and impedements to global social good at new institutions of higher education.

social good, internationalization, higher education, global responsibility, Finland, critical, neoliberalism, global, university, coloniality, social justice, practitioner
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