With more than 200,000 alumni based in over 200 countries around the world, and over 45 per cent of students being from countries outside the UK in recent years, embracing a global outlook is central to King’s mission to be an international community that serves the world. In this article, Professor ’Funmi Olonisakin, Vice Principal & Vice President for International and proud King’s alumna (MA War Studies, 1990; PhD War Studies, 1996), talks to InTouch Online about our international strategy and what it means for the institution and the wider King’s community.
What does it mean to make an institution more international?
Professor ’Funmi Olonisakin:
At King’s, we have set a vision to serve society and to help make the world a better place. To be truly global in our approach and community, we want to go beyond rankings and the ticking of boxes. Everyone should feel like a King’s person – regardless of where they are in the world – and we want to make sure we’re being inclusive in our outreach.
There are many underlying reasons why an institution may pursue an international agenda. They broadly fall into three groups: marketisation, rankings and ethos. For marketisation, there’s no denying that universities need to fund their research and that there may be a temptation for institutions to create a mass international market. To compete in global rankings, aspects such as how many international students an institution has or who they collaborate with globally for research play a major role. And for ethos, it is quite simply an institution trying to do the right thing and do good in the world. In short, it is about a university’s social responsibility.
But through our research and discussions, there is a repeating question: is this need for income or reputation in conflict with a search for excellence or community? The rankings that judge how international an institution is don’t necessarily put any pressure on them to make any fundamental changes. There’s no part of the rankings that says – so you have lots of international students but what do you do with them? And what about your home students?
What if the best mind wants to come to King’s but they can’t afford it? We have a number of scholarships and funds now, such as the International Hardship Fund, but we should always be asking the question of how we enable the brightest minds to come here, regardless of their financial situation. That’s what I mean by going beyond these simpler measures – that is what internationalisation means.
It was as if we knew the world was about to change.
PROFESSOR ’FUNMI OLONISAKIN
How did the Internationalisation 2029 strategy come about?
We worked on our Internationalisation 2029 strategy for 18 months, with input from over 400 staff and focus groups of students in all nine faculties at King’s, before launching it in 2019. The strategy that emerged reflected a lot of the narratives we’ve been hearing more about since the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, particularly the lack of representation, the injustices and an inequality in opportunities. It was as if we knew the world was about to change.
One of the stand-out results from our research was that students want a curriculum that is much more inclusive and innovative. A curriculum that acknowledges and changes the one-sided nature of history, and a curriculum that ensures we are closing the attainment gap between our students. And these gaps are everywhere – between international students and home students and similarly between home students and those who are the first people to go to university in their family. There shouldn’t be a gap between home and international students. Similarly, there shouldn’t be an attainment gap between different races, classes or genders – all those factors play out.
To reduce these gaps, to create a cohesive community, and to make sure every student feels like a ‘King’s person’, we need to make changes internally.
How do we make those changes internally?
In our Internationalisation 2029 strategy, we identify two main areas: cultural competency and global problem solving. These are key when talking about making changes for our community.
What does cultural competency mean? It’s the ability to see the world through the eyes of another person – it doesn’t matter where you are from, your race, your gender, your abilities, or anything – whether home, abroad or virtually. We need to be able to understand what it must feel like to be an ‘other’. It’s not about agreeing – but knowing where another is coming from. When this approach is taken, teaching, learning and relationships become easier as a result.
To make sure every student feels like a ‘King’s person’, we need to make changes internally.
PROFESSOR ’FUNMI OLONISAKIN
We plan to embed cultural competency in our processes, research and professional services, and for it to be embraced by our academics. Because perception is as true as reality – if the perception of our students and staff is that they’re being held back, that is their reality. So, we need to do what we can to change both perceptions and reality for everyone.
King’s is already a global leader in problem solving – we have some of the finest research around. You only need to turn on the TV during the global COVID-19 pandemic and you’ll see King’s academics sharing their knowledge and expertise. We plan to work with like-minded universities to improve our collaboration and our global reach. Our partnerships and commitment to global problem solving are driven by excellence and an inclusive world view.
We will also establish a Global Leadership Institute, with the aim that King’s will be a global point of reference on global leadership education and development, with a strong interdisciplinary and problem-solving ethos focused on service to society among a global community of students.
However, this it is not a short-term strategy – it will take time. That’s why we’re aligning our Internationalisation 2029 strategy with King’s Vision 2029.
What can we expect if this strategy goes according to plan?
King’s will be a place where staff, students and friends are able to grow and thrive, and will further develop our global community. We’re already starting to see this in our alumni networks.
King’s will be different from our peers. Our university will be a place where students and staff hold a view of global service and solidarity that goes beyond research and education. It will be a global point of reference where questions of equality will be settled. Our environment will be unique and our history will be more reflective of our community. We know minorities in history are not represented for their work, so we need to rectify that as part of our understanding. Once we do that, we can start to move forward. We want to tell the complete story of our students, staff and alumni.
Find out more about internationalisation at King’s here.
Read the Internationalisation 2029 strategy here.
Find out more about cultural competency at King’s here.