Perspectives and Challenges of Internationalising Higher Education from and for the Global South

Fernanda Leal (Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brazil)
Kyria Rebeca Finardi (Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo, Brazil)
Maria Julieta Abba (Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos, Brazil)

Critical Reflections on the Internationalisation of Higher Education in the Global South

ISBN: 978-1-80455-779-2, eISBN: 978-1-80455-778-5

Publication date: 26 April 2024


The immersion of global higher education in a competitive, economy-oriented paradigm calls for perspectives on internationalisation that are explicitly aimed at shaping cooperative, sustainable and alternative/decolonial futures. The authors of this chapter recognise the relevance of research perspectives that – epistemologically aligned with critical internationalisation studies – emphasise the dilemmas and contradictions of internationalisation of higher education (IHE). In this chapter, the authors therefore present reflections that confront the hegemonic discourse that portrays the phenomenon of IHE as an unconditional good. The authors dialogue with the idea of promoting a perspective of IHE from and for the Global South – that is, one that instead of suppressing, recognises the epistemic plurality of the world. To do so, the authors assume that any critical efforts to address internationalisation in the context of the Global South can be enriched when explicitly situated within colonial history. The authors argue that looking towards the future of IHE requires a look towards its past. Specifically, the authors bring together four interrelated lines of argument: (i) recognising the university as a historical producer and reproducer of colonial hierarchies; (ii) conceiving the Global South as a field of epistemic challenges; (iii) having a non-myopic view of South–South cooperation; and (iv) spreading the epistemological horizon of internationalisation. Such reflections might contribute to envisioning new horizons for IHE in the Global South and its relation with those who have been relegated to a status of invisibility.



Leal, F., Finardi, K.R. and Abba, M.J. (2024), "Perspectives and Challenges of Internationalising Higher Education from and for the Global South", Woldegiorgis, E.T. and Yu, C.Q. (Ed.) Critical Reflections on the Internationalisation of Higher Education in the Global South (Diverse Perspectives on Creating a Fairer Society), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 33-47.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024 Fernanda Leal, Kyria Rebeca Finardi and Maria Julieta Abba


One of the most recent developments in the field of internationalisation of higher education (IHE) is an increased recognition that alongside the opportunities offered by this process, several political, epistemological and ethical issues are complex, contradictory and contestable (Leal, 2020; Piccin & Finardi, 2021; Stein, 2017). In this regard, Chiappa and Finardi (2021) claim that even though the process of IHE is usually portrayed as an intrinsically beneficial one, its ‘darker side’ – a reference to Walter Mignolo’s (2011) thought on modernity/coloniality such as by Archanjo and Barbosa (2019) – hides mechanisms that maintain and reinforce power asymmetries and hierarchies between knowledges and people (Vavrus & Pekol, 2015). Accordingly, the colonial patterns within the historical world system are maintained and perpetuated (Wallerstein, 2006).

Criticism raised against current views and practices of IHE includes the assertion that internationalisation is ‘losing its way’ (Knight, 2014, p. 76), with Reisberg (2019, p. 1) asking ‘Did anyone really anticipate just how complicated [IHE] was going to be?’ Some of the other critiques by authors include: competition advances that are detrimental to cooperation (De Wit, 2020; Finardi, Mendes et al., 2022); that only part of the produced knowledge is visible because of the lack of an ecology of knowledges and languages in this process (Finardi, França et al., 2022); that current practices of IHE are not benefitting the Global South (Finardi, 2022; Leal et al., 2022); that internationalisation should be more inclusive and less elitist (Finardi & Guimarães, 2020); and that the link between internationalisation and neoliberalism has narrowed (Bamberger et al., 2019).

Given this recognition, several researchers – both in the Global North and the Global South – have advocated for internationalisation to be guided by values that transcend market logic and offer contributions closer to the problems of society. For example, Jones and De Wit (2014, p. 28) and De Wit (2020), referring to how globalisation affects IHE, argue that internationalisation should no longer be immersed in a westernised, largely Anglo-Saxon and predominantly English-speaking paradigm. De Wit et al. (2017) reaffirm that the traditionally adopted concept of internationalisation is the result of a dominant paradigm that originated in Western Europe and English-speaking countries. Streitwieser et al. (2019), in turn, propose the humanistic rationale is a motivation to internationalise, given the barriers to higher education access that refugees face in North America and Europe. This is something that we as the authors of this chapter could also relate to as this plays out in Latin America. In the Global North, a conceptualisation aligned with the aforementioned concerns is the internationalisation of higher education for society, which (by claiming that this process should bring a meaningful contribution to society [De Wit, 2019]) assumes that work on internationalisation must be linked to work on social engagement. It would also have a focus on ‘global issues’ such as xenophobia, populism and climate change (e.g. Stein, 2023), and the preservation of democracy (Brandenburg et al., 2019; De Wit et al., 2020).

Decolonial perspectives in the Global South claim – as proposed by de Sousa Santos (2010) – that instead of suppressing knowledges, IHE should promote an ‘ecology of knowledges’. This will result in what de Sousa Santos et al. (2015) call ‘a movement from university to pluriversity’. In an analysis of public policies for IHE in Latin America, Echeverría-King et al. (2023) conclude that an ecology of knowledges is still lacking because universities in the region, far from offering a situated pluriversity, are still trying to imitate models dictated by (and arguably for) the Global North.

Referring to the case of Brazil, De Wit et al. (2020) denounce current IHE practices, contesting the idea of internationalisation as an unconditional good and calling for more cooperative forms to engage internationally and interculturally. In their view, internationalisation should be explicitly aligned with broader social justice efforts and aimed at shaping more inclusive, sustainable, or alternative futures. In this sense, Abba and Streck (2019) and Piccin et al. (2023) highlight the role of critical interculturality to promote an alternative internationalisation, an argument that is echoed in Finardi’s (2021) call for IHE process for and from the South. This is especially necessary in the Latin American context owing to its diversity, cultural heterogeneity and colonial history.

Still in Brazil, Leal (2020) observes the predominance of reductionist and hegemonic approaches in IHE national and institutional policies; these reflect the perspectives and interests of a world system that is engaged in a race or competition. Reaffirming this perception, Finardi, Mendes et al. (2022) conclude that IHE in Brazil is still set on increased competition rather than cooperation. The analysis by Finardi et al. (2020) of a cooperation agreement between a university in Brazil and one in the United States demonstrates this trend; they concluded that the IHE process is still very imbalanced and is dictated by instrumental, neoliberal, reductionist approaches – as dominant models dictated by (and for?) the Global North.

Recognising the relevance of these and other arguments that make the dilemmas and contradictions of IHE visible, in this theoretical chapter, we understand that any critical efforts to address the contemporary university institution and the international relations established in this domain are enriched when explicitly situated within colonial history and contrasted with the underlying colonial heritage. In other words (and as put forward by Chiappa & Finardi, 2021), IHE strategies that do not make explicit the non-neutrality of this process and its connection with the hierarchical power asymmetries installed during colonial times reproduce (rather than correct or disrupt) these imbalances. Especially for those located on the side of the ‘abyssal line’1 that is relegated to a status of invisibility (e.g. Piccin & Finardi, 2021; Piccin et al., 2023) and subalternity (Echeverría-King et al., 2023), looking towards the future of IHE requires a look towards its past (Leal, 2021). It demands the recognition that what we understand of internationalisation today results from relations that were unevenly constituted throughout history (Abba & Streck, 2021; Leal, 2021).

Given these considerations, promoting a perspective of IHE from and for the Global South implies the recognition rather than the suppression of the epistemic plurality of the world (Leal, 2020). With this aim in mind, we advance four lines of arguments – (i) recognising the university as a historical producer and reproducer of colonial hierarchies; (ii) conceiving the Global South as a field of epistemic challenges; (iii) having a non-myopic view of South–South cooperation; and (iv) spreading the epistemological horizon of internationalisation, to contribute to envisioning new horizons for IHE. Such horizons embrace pluriversity, interculturality, sustainability and global social justice.

Recognising the University as a Historical Producer and Reproducer of Colonial Hierarchies

It is difficult to conceive perspectives of IHE that question and truly transcend the dominant modern/colonial rationality (e.g. Piccin & Finardi, 2021). This is especially so in the absence of questions about the role that the university institution has played and continues to play in capitalism as a historical world system. Importantly this brings into question (beyond lip service and solutionism) the solutions developed in the 21st century by universities to address current ecological, social, economic and health crises (e.g. de Sousa Santos, 2021; Stein, 2023).

The university is a privileged space, not only for the production but also for the consecration of unique and hegemonic knowledge. This is so because the university enjoys an epistemological authority that gives it the power to decide which stories and intellectual contributions are valid and worthy of attention and dissemination (Leal, 2020). As a field where power and capital relations (cultural, social, economic and symbolic) manifest (Marginson & Ordorika, 2011) and are constructed, the university has historically been closely associated with the formation of capitalist elites throughout history. During the colonial period, besides having benefitted directly from such relations, it was a key place for the institutionalisation and naturalisation of appropriation and exploitation (Bourdieu, 1988; de Sousa Santos, 2018).

The Bhambra et al. (2018) understanding summarises that it was at the university that colonial intellectuals developed theories of race, popularised discourses that bolstered support for colonial endeavours and provided ethical and intellectual grounds for the dispossession, oppression and domination of colonised subjects. In the colonial metropolis, universities provided would-be colonial administrators with knowledge of the peoples they would rule over, as well as lessons in techniques of domination and exploitation (Bhambra et al., 2018, p. 5). The dominant academic model remains largely immersed in a modern/colonial power pattern. The criteria that define aspects such as the curriculum, faculties and the selection of students tend to be based on an ideology that reinforces the superiority of a specific culture; thus disciplinary divisions, theoretical models and Eurocentric histories continue to provide intellectual materials that reproduce and justify hierarchies (de Sousa Santos, 2018).

Furthermore, the producers of theories accepted as universal are almost always European or Euro-American white men, which – at the expense of the disqualification and inferiorisation of knowledge produced by people from all over the planet (Grosfoguel, 2016), induce the traditional academic narrative to remain highly selective (de Sousa Santos, 2018). By suppressing or subjugating local epistemologies in favour of Eurocentrism, the content of university knowledge remains governed ‘by the West’ and ‘for the West’, while non-westernised forms of knowledge are celebrated as ‘local cultures’ commodified and appropriated for the benefit of the West – or simply not recognised.

In the Global South, the university has been shaped since its beginning by a hegemonic Global North, with its civilising project of modernity and through the privilege acquired by modern science as a mechanism of progress and main form of reason (Bourdieu, 1988; de Sousa Santos, 1988). Such interventions gave rise to colonial/modern, capitalist and Eurocentric ways of producing and organising knowledge (Quijano, 2005). They also resulted in objective and subjective dependencies through alignments with governments and universities in the North. Western knowledge has therefore become a modernisation export commodity (Mignolo, 2011). It is not by chance that the Western university tends to be seen as the ideal university model in these contexts. In what concerns the process of IHE, the use of rankings produced in (and arguably for) the Global North (see, e.g. Finardi & Guimarães, 2017), the languages adopted in this process (Finardi, 2022), the academic mobility flows (e.g. Díaz, 2018) and orientations (e.g. Finardi, Mendes et al., 2022), as well as the evaluation/publication patterns subjugating the Global South (e.g. Finardi, França et al., 2022), are just a few examples and evidence that this process is still very much infused with colonial ties and legacies.

Conceiving the Global South as a Field of Epistemic Challenges

The concept of the Global South or just ‘the South’ is understood here as being detached from its geographical position. Rather, it concerns the grouping that brings together the so-called ‘developing countries’ (middle-income countries and low-income countries) (Leite, 2012, p. 4). This incorporates a large number of countries in Africa, Asia and Central and Latin America – around 160 out of a total of 195 recognised independent states – which face significant economic and development challenges (Robertson & Komljenovic, 2016). As Chisholm (2009) observes, notions of North and South have become a metaphor for rich versus poor, developed versus underdeveloped, First versus Third Worlds, and donors versus recipients of international aid (and knowledge). In essence, it is a geopolitical and relational concept, which invariably refers to a relationship of inequality, since the level of development is contrasted with parts of the world that constitute the Global North.

Also in relational terms, the recognition of inequality and diversity within nations suggests that every state (and region or standpoint, really) in the South can have its own North and South, that the East can exist within the West, and that the South can exist within the North (Chisholm, 2009). It is possible, then, to point to the existence of a Global South within the Global North, that is, the communities of the central countries whose economic, cultural, political and technological circumstances are precarious compared to the rest of the population in a given point of analysis. This group includes those living at or below the poverty line, asylum seekers with limited access to social welfare, and marginalised ethnic groups. It is also possible to see a Global North within the Global South evidenced by the political and economic elites of countries such as South Africa and Brazil (Robertson & Komljenovic, 2016).

For de Sousa Santos and Meneses (2010, p. 19), the South is metaphorically conceived as a field of epistemic challenges that seek to repair the damage and impacts historically caused by capitalism in its colonial relationship with the world. de Sousa Santos (2018), in a more recent interpretation, refers to the South from an epistemological conception, since the term assumes a metaphorical character, and expresses the knowledge built in the struggles of oppressed and excluded subjects against the injustices caused by capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy.

Regarding the production, circulation and reverberation of knowledge in and from the Global South, Finardi, França et al. (2022) explain the epistemic invisibility and lack of an ecology of knowledges and languages in the academic production of Latin America. To fight this subalternisation, Finardi (2021) calls for a more critical internationalisation in, from, and for the South. This requires the questioning of modernity/coloniality (Piccin & Finardi, 2021), with irrigation and acknowledgement of epistemologies of the South (de Sousa Santos & Meneses, 2010). As found by de Sousa Santos and Meneses, this internationalisation requires a set of epistemological interventions that denounce this suppression, value the knowledge that has successfully resisted, and investigate the conditions of a horizontal dialogue between knowledges (p. 19). As such, we understand that conceiving the Global South as a field of epistemic challenges offers great potential for the deconstruction of colonial views that underly and constitute current IHE models, thus allowing the construction of a more critical, situated and decolonial IHE process.

Having a Non-Myopic View of South–South Cooperation

The idea of South–South cooperation (SSC) gains relevance in the scenario of discontent with the existing asymmetries in the international arena; this discontent invites the questioning of the effectiveness of the Western model of development and criticism of the welfare bias commonly observed in the links between the North and the South. Much of the political argument that supports SSC assumes that actors in the South can and must cooperate on more equal terms to solve their political, economic and social problems (Milani, 2012; Muñoz, 2016).

As Wallerstein (2006) observes, no matter how different the situations of the countries of the South are, two issues were recurrent in their scope: (i) opposition to North American hegemony and Soviet connivance with such hegemony; and (ii) disillusionment with the promises of modernity and the ‘old left’ in all its forms; these came to power in different parts yet failed to achieve the promised transformation of society. The Bandung Conference (1955) involved 29 African and Asian countries meeting to map the future of the new global order; the aim was for the countries to free themselves from economic and political dependence on the United States and the Soviet Union, Similarly, the Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (1961) had Latin American countries join forces with Africans and Asians. These are both important historical landmarks of South–South movements. Throughout the 2000s, the economic recovery of emerging powers and their dissatisfaction with the social impacts of emergency and structural adjustment programmes contributed to the search for new international partnerships and the organisation of coalitions that created new perspectives on South–South relations (Mawdsley, 2012). Since then, SSC has been used to refer to joint actions between ‘developing’ countries (Leite, 2012).

Referring to the domain of higher education, the Córdoba movement of 1918 is viewed as a relevant historical antecedent of the IHE process from a critical (yet cooperative) perspective in Latin America (Abba & Streck, 2021). More than a hundred years ago, the students of Córdoba, in Argentina, rejected the exclusionary and elitist character of higher education, denouncing the growing distance between the university institution and society. Pressure from the students resulted in the uprising of a university social movement demanding democracy, autonomy and improved access to university education. The reformist movement of Córdoba spread throughout Latin America, and the students are still remembered for their contribution to public education in the region and beyond.

In the IHE domain, discourses on SSC have gained notoriety with a general recognition that links partners (namely national systems, university institutions, researchers, etc.). Unequal positioning in the world economic system tends to exacerbate asymmetries, through processes that strengthen the already strong but further weaken those already weak. In this sense, such discourses tend to associate SSC with principles such as equity, autonomy, horizontality, solidarity and mutual participation.

However, bibliographical research by Leal et al. (2017) on IHE aimed at understanding scientific knowledge on SSC at national and international levels showed that the literature reflects a complexity that permeates this ‘modality’ of international interaction. This is especially the case in the face of the different, often conflicting, rationales that motivate SSC. Although the identified research raised important insights, Leal et al. identified that there was little debate on developing South–South cooperative links while simultaneously disconnecting from the hegemonic/colonial patterns. The research findings of Leal et al. (2017) closely mirror what was found in the bibliometric analysis by Finardi, França et al. (2022) of the ties, (co)production and collaboration in Latin America and SSC.

By placing national interests and power at the centre of the analysis of international relations, it is possible to shed light on the political nature of SSC, associating it with diverse meanings in the dynamics between peripheral versus semi-peripheral countries. This means that SSC agreements are not necessarily free from colonial legacies and vices, as reported, for example, by Piccin and Finardi (2019a) in the case of a partnership between higher education institutions in Brazil and Benin, respectively, in which the latter expected the former to dictate ‘the terms of the conversation’ – placing it in a passive recipient role. Thus, despite the belief that SSC may represent a path for developing egalitarian international relations, it is unrealistic to assume that these are depoliticised and that the motive of direct or indirect material or immaterial rewards, and colonial legacies/vices do not exert a strong influence.

While SSC has the potential to increase horizontal relations in higher education, classifying any exchange relationship as colonial or cooperative is an empirical question which requires going beyond the promises and discourses (Leal, 2020). Therefore, South–South relations (with all their associated complexities) are an important topic for empirical research on the IHE, as well as for the advancement of a more sustainable and decolonial model of IHE.

Spreading the Epistemological Horizon of IHE

Despite the references made above to the contradictions and dilemmas linked to the phenomenon of IHE, we argue that the field remains disconnected from (i) the history of unequally constituted international relations. This inequality was present in the university context before the emergence of the idea of IHE itself, including the centrality of the university as a key place for the institutionalisation and naturalisation of relationships of appropriation and exploitation; (ii) analyses informed by theoretical lenses that question structural assumptions of the phenomenon. These also consider the debate on the risks and subjective consequences of the excess of economic rationality that is articulated in the different plans of higher education; (iii) reflexivity concerning how the production and dissemination of knowledge on this subject both shapes and is shaped by the broader unequal context in which higher education is built; and (iv) the contexts of the epistemic roots and historical conditionalities that analysis must overcome, namely the assumption that although there are global needs, only one centre produces universal knowledge to solve everyone’s problems.

Because of this distance, discussions about geopolitical structural inequalities, ethical responsibilities and alternative possibilities of engagement between cultures in higher education (in addition to the roles played by higher education and internationalisation as structural needs for the expansion of capitalism) remain significantly neglected in the literature. Despite the general recognition that there is no ‘model of internationalisation’ that serves different social conjunctures, the focus of research in the field is overly instrumental/operational. Most discourses on the subject of internationalisation categorise the phenomenon in terms of imperatives, decreeing its inevitability and promoting the neutralisation of a complex social phenomenon. This involves multiple interests and power relations, without conceiving true options of choice in terms of alternative and more equitable forms of international engagement.

In addition, the expectations and objectives linked to internationalisation, as well as the ‘solutions’ considered appropriate to subvert the highlighted dilemmas, are immersed in a common agenda of Eurocentric origin, universally designed/defined. Although in certain cases the discourses explicitly reject the ‘neoliberal option’, they treat neoliberalism as a recent phenomenon rather than as a long-term trajectory of the capitalist world system (Wallerstein, 2006). They are guided by the illusion that in the past, university/academic international relations obeyed truly cooperative principles. These discourses are thus neglecting the histories of imperialism and power imbalances.

There is the assumption that the oppressive logic of coloniality produces an energy of discontent and detachment that translates into questioning, fissures and contradictions in the dominant paradigm. Thus, to internationalise differently in the Global South, it is necessary to broaden the epistemological horizon in which this phenomenon is immersed. It is therefore important to question the partial stories of ‘progress, happiness and salvation’ traditionally associated with the phenomenon. Such questioning can shed light on the complexity of internationalisation, making room for stories of internationalisation to be told not only from within the ‘modern’ world but also from within its borders.

Denaturalising the dominant idea of IHE – in the sense of enabling the conception of other ways of doing, thinking, experiencing and being in international and intercultural relations in the Global South – implies distancing from contemporary political and academic discourses that are emphasised in the phenomenon and widely adopted by institutions and actors involved with higher education. It also means seeing oneself as the centre of references and ‘inhabiting the frontier’: not resisting, but subjectifying oneself, resurrecting, re-emerging and re-existing.

The proposition of specific models runs the risk of reproducing a universalist, dichotomous conceptual genealogy linked to global projects – we are aware that there is no single way to reimagine IHE. In this light, we wish to point to some theoretical and practical initiatives that might serve as an inspiration to pluralistic approaches that provide epistemological ground for detachment from the modern/colonial logic when designing policies and practising internationalisation from and for the Global South. These initiatives include, first the postcolonial concepts of epistemologies of the South and sociological reduction. The epistemologies of the South (de Sousa Santos & Meneses, 2010) assume that the dominant epistemology of the last two centuries excluded from its scope the cultural and political context of the production and reproduction of knowledge. From this perspective, differences are suppressed and provide ground to the dominant culture, reducing the epistemological, cultural and political diversity of the world. In the specific context of higher education, the recognition of the epistemological plurality constitutes a source of significant enrichment for views, policies and practices of internationalisation. This requires a deep exercise of critical review of the concepts hegemonically defined by modern/colonial rationality in historical, ontological and epistemic terms.

Second, the sociological reduction (Ramos, 1996) emerging from a concern for the production of committed and engaged knowledge that has pragmatic value. This is as opposed to an alienated and ideological knowledge that treats social facts as stable and isolated in time and space. It refers to a critical-assimilative procedure of the foreign experience that is opposed to the uncritical transposition of external determinations. In the context of internationalisation, the concept can be associated with the demand for a more realistic view of international university/academic relations, which apprehends the dynamic and situated character of reality (Lynch, 2015, p. 30). This is achieved without disregarding the centrality of the power and national interest (Morgenthau, 1962) and responsibility in terms of ‘universal’, ‘international’ and ‘local’ rights (Piccin & Finardi, 2019b) and the complex articulations and interests involved. In summary, the concept of sociological reduction might shed light on the limitations of the ‘ethnocentric illusion’ (Ramos, 1996, p. 159) that has defined the expectations related to the phenomenon of internationalisation.

Third, the legacies of the Córdoba movement of 1918 as a relevant historical antecedent for the IHE process in Latin America (Abba & Streck, 2021). Its principles contemplate university autonomy in political, academic, administrative and economic aspects. This includes the election of the governing bodies and authorities of the institution by the university community itself, co-government, free education, and the democratisation of access. Provision of social assistance and outreach/extension (discussed further below), and strengthening of the university’s social development function have also been important outcomes. The unity of Latin America is another important legacy of the movement (Rubião, 2013). Even though the ‘dream’ imagined by Córdoba did not fully materialise (in part owing to the counter-reforms carried out by the military dictatorships) the movement left important legacies, present today to a greater or lesser extent in public universities in the region. It is, above all, the root of the link between university reform and social reform that supports the concept of ‘university extension’ in its broad sense. Such extension is associated with the ideas of autonomy conditioned by society and the contextualisation of university activities, ‘in the sense that they dialogue with society, defining together what is best for both parties’ (Rubião, 2013, p. 235). Bearing in mind the need for IHE in Latin America to be coupled with its history and social function, the Córdoba movement presents itself as an opportunity to reflect on future directions in this field. The evocation of its principles will contribute to conceiving ‘other internationalisations of higher education’ (in reference to the reflections of the Brazilian geographer Milton Santos on ‘another globalisation’). This is a perspective of internationalisation that is participatory, contextualised, committed to social inclusion, aimed at preserving the cultural diversity of peoples and recognising the epistemic plurality of the world.

Some experiences of university institutions that collaborate to reflect on SSC and internationalisation practices from a critical perspective are, for example, the Universidade Federal da Integração Latino-Americana, the Universidade da Integração Internacional da Lusofonia Afro-Brasileira and the Escuela Latino-Americana de Medicina. The first two are located in Brazil and the last in Cuba. Since their creation, these institutions have been conceived with an international sense, prioritising union and solidarity among the countries of the Global South (Abba, 2018). They have continued to resist the attacks of the modern/colonial logic in higher education and have shown that another perspective of IHE otherwise is possible.


To a large extent, the growing recognition of contradictions and dilemmas associated with IHE does not seem to either challenge widespread beliefs or disrupt practices around this process. Nor does it seem to question assumptions related to structural issues of power, inequality and coloniality that accompany the institutionalisation of internationalisation or the centrality of the university institution in the very consolidation of such a structure. Expectations, objectives, practices and solutions attached to internationalisation remain largely immersed in a Eurocentric agenda that projects itself universally. Such an agenda not only defines what is valid, desirable and possible when it comes to the process of IHE, but it also obscures the colonial past (and present) of the university institution. As a result, there is still little space for debates on ethical responsibilities, what internationalisation is and can actually be, and how internationalisation can actively work as a space of transformation of a highly hierarchical world. To a large extent, the critique of the IHE is a Eurocentric critique of modernity.

To internationalise higher education in the Global South (covering inbound and outbound), there is a need to understand the university as an institution historically managed by actors susceptible to Western beliefs and the effects of the totality of knowledge. It is equally important to understand the South as a field of epistemic challenges, where knowledge is built in the struggles of oppressed and excluded subjects against the injustices caused by capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. From these recognitions, several other questions can integrate the reflection on IHE in the Global South such as, is there, in fact, a tense relationship between the values of university internationalisation on the one hand and globalisation on the other, or, despite the discourses that distance them, does internationalisation refer to an agent of globalisation and a phenomenon of interest to capital? How can democracy in IHE be guaranteed in an institution like the university? Does the university not privilege one type of knowledge and culture as if it were the only one circulating in a single and homogeneous society? What does inclusion and diversity mean in this context? Who has the power to ‘include’ and ‘diversify’? What type of university fits the idea of internationalisation as an imperative? What do concepts such as ‘comprehensive internationalisation’, ‘intelligent internationalisation’, ‘internationalisation at home’, and ‘inclusive internationalisation’ (among others) mean when thinking of internationalisation from and for the Global South?

In the Global South, we understand that internationalisation is not, as most academic discourses on the subject claim, ‘losing its way’. After all, for those located ‘on the side of the abyssal line’ that disappears as a reality (de Sousa Santos, 2010) – international relations in higher education, either objective or subjective, have never been equal (Leal, 2020). Without questioning the broader structure in which the university operates, inclusion and diversity in the context of internationalisation likely remain conditioned by the same global imaginary that produces and reproduces colonial hierarchies.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic which began in March 2020 also brought new challenges and opportunities for IHE in the Global South. Leite (2020, p. 51) writing during the pandemic observed that it was a period of conflict where ‘from the sanitary, geographic, economic and political point of view, borders are blurred, solidarities disintegrate, the right to education is undermined’; the right to health and life was further questioned. In addition, Leite observed there was the ‘devastating effect of the pandemic and post-pandemic crisis with its unequal effects on those at the bottom of the social pyramid, accentuating differences in gender, ethnicity and race’ (Leite, 2020, p. 51). Crises like the one resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic made explicit the inability of institutions exclusively linked to academic mobility (Finardi & Guimarães, 2020) and/or subjected to the instrumental/productivist logic of the capital to respond to societal needs. This moment is, therefore, an opportunity for reflexivity not only on current concepts and practices of internationalisation (Piccin & Finardi, 2021) but also on the roles played by the university institution itself (Leal, 2021).

The agenda for the future of internationalisation in the Global South should include a collective effort to detach from the dominant rationality, which requires intentionality and critical effort to denounce this rationality. For that, one must truly move away from the idea of internationalisation as an unconditional good or as a phenomenon that should take place at any cost (Leal, 2021). Only then it will be possible to envision new horizons for international relations in higher education, such as pluriversity, interculturality, sustainability and global social justice.


Author Kyria Finardi would like to thank Fapes and Cnpq for research funding support in the form of grants and scholarships.


Briefly, the notion of abyssal lines was proposed by postcolonial sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos to explain the division of the world into what is known, valid, visible and what is not. For more on abyssal thinking, see de Sousa Santos (2007).


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