Guest Essay
by Shahrzad Kamyab, Independent Scholar and Rosalind Latiner Raby, California State University, Northridge


The new book edited by Shahrzad Kamyab and Rosalind Latiner Raby.

Within internationalization of higher education literature, a focus on intended outcomes has been identified, explored, and applied over time and across geographies. However, there is no set definition and there is extremely limited discourse on unintended consequences. In our new book (Unintended Consequences of Internationalization of Higher Education, Routledge, 2023), we add to the field of comparative and international higher education a definition of unintended consequences and then explore it via case studies of 18 countries, many of which reside in the Global South. Since there is no set definition, we define unintended consequences of internationalization as “what occurs when a single or set of actions (theoretical or practical) influence new perceptions, trajectory of actions, or static by-products in unexpected ways” (p. 2).

The importance of unintended consequences is that it can facilitate change by being a response to intended actions or can inadvertently alter intended goals and outcomes by reversing or moving the agenda into new directions. Negative unintended consequences include erosion of cultural values, human capital flight, and inequities from hegemonic relationships. Positive unintended consequences include innovation to increase profit and rank, equitable collaborations, and de-colonization practices. In addition, authors in this book show that in their country, that depending on the point of view, unintended consequences can have both negative and positive implications. For example, adoption of English as Lingua Franca in specific academic programs limits access for local and non-English speaking international students, seen as negative. Yet, at the same time, a focus on international students with English skills aligns with higher education strategies to raise prestige, seen as positive.

When we conceived this book, we were aware of the lack of discourse on unintended consequences of internationalization. As such, we gave each author a basic framework, including a) context on country; b) context on internationalization in the country; c) positive unintended consequences; and d) negative unintended consequences. We did not give a definition as we wanted the authors to explore their own interpretations of unintended consequences of internationalization. The selection of countries was purposeful for this book. Since the field of internationalization of higher education is dominated by the English-speaking research focused on English-speaking countries, our intent was to bring voices from and to target scholarship from areas of the world that are underrepresented in the literature. As such, the combined chapters include case studies on Canada, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Zimbabwe.

Unintended Consequences of Internationalization Themes

Three themes are prominent in the book. The first theme explores unintended consequences of internationalization as a response to something that has already happened. These responses are the creation of new actions, opportunities, or processes. In Costa Rica, for example, a proposed development of a niche curricula to attract international students from the U.S. unintendedly created Costa Rica as a hub that attracted students from throughout Central America. In Russia, intended institutional reforms to facilitate international student enrollment unintentionally innovated student services. The later was unexpectedly responsible for an increase in incoming student flows and the profit gained from their admission.

The second theme shows unintended consequences of internationalization as an unanticipated action that leads to a rejection of something that has already happened that, in turn, results in the creation of new actions or processes that fundamentally change the intended outcome. In pre-revolutionary Iran (pre-1979), massive student mobility helped to internationalize higher education, but unintendedly led to brain drain. In Tunisia, the intended adoption of European internationalization practices is advocated by some as a tool to facilitate modernization, but unexpectedly was rejected by others who fought to retain national and local identity.

The final theme illustrates unintended consequences of internationalization as a calculated movement forward into new directions via strategic actions that sometimes are framed by social justice and equity. In Canada, the national focus on internationalization of higher education has unintended consequences of balancing a global market focus to one on social justice within local orientations. In Zimbabwe, responses to neo-colonialism resulted in unintended actions that utilize post-colonial actions in which local contributions remove an institution from Northern hegemony.

Final Thoughts

When taking into consideration the unintended consequences of internationalization, our book shows that what is unexpected has the potential to change plans, initiate new programs, and take advantage of new opportunities. Comparative and international perspectives on the impacts of unintended consequences provide a new perspective on Internationalization of Higher Education and on Internationalization in Higher Education for Society since there is action beyond outcomes. More importantly, when realizing that unintended consequences exist, it underscores unforeseen possibilities for change. In some contexts, strategic designs for intended actions can be oblivious to unforeseen and unpredictable outcomes. In other contexts, the unintended consequences can be predicted or can even be part of a strategic strategy for change. The authors who contribute to this book offer expertise on internationalization from the standpoint of academics, administrators, practitioners, marketing experts, regional experts, and politicians. In conclusion, this book has the explicit purpose to add depth to the conversations around the ways in which internationalization facilitates change.

Shahrzad Kamyab & Rosalind Latiner Raby. (2023). Unintended Consequences of Internationalization in Higher Education: Comparative International Perspectives on the Impacts of Policy and Practice. Routledge. ISBN: 978-1-032-03951-0

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