Internationalising the curriculum A Guide for Academic Staff


Internationalisation is at the centre of the university’s vision for the future. Our new internationalisation strategy emphasises its importance for students and staff alike. It is GCU’s long-term aspiration to embed internationalisation across all university activities which includes our approaches to learning and teaching.

This online resource provides information and guidance to support academic staff who are charged with delivering an internationalised curriculum in their disciplines. Evidence from research (Caruana, 2010; Leask and Carroll, 2011) reveals that academics are often unsure of how to approach it, how to fit it into their discipline specific programmes and promote it to their students.

The resource is designed to give a first insight into the process of internationalising the curriculum encouraging a reflective, iterative approach rather than a radical instant intervention. It aims to provide some answers to the following questions:

 What is an international education and an internationalised curriculum?
 How can I embed an internationalised curriculum in my teaching?
 How can we engage our students?

Links to further resources, related CPD opportunities at GCU and practical activities are integrated throughout.

What is an international education?

There is no shortage of definitions in the academic literature on the theme. They vary widely and are often aligned to institutional contexts and discipline specialisms. The following definition takes an overarching view which proposes the concept of ‘worldmindedness’. It chimes with GCU’s aspirations as University for the Common Good and our ambition to produce graduates who are ‘active and global citizens’.

International education is a dynamic concept that involves a journey or movement of people, minds, or ideas across political and cultural frontiers. The development of a “Worldmindedness” can become the goal of any school (i.e. university), and hence, any school can become truly “international.” (Moran Hansen, 2002)

If we want to achieve an attitude of ‘world mindedness’ amongst our students and ourselves as staff we need to make conscious efforts to integrate international, intercultural, and global dimensions into GCU’s approach to education. It will not happen automatically. Further details on the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to develop a global mindset can be found here .

What are the international goals of a GCU education?

The university’s Common Good Attributes outline what we would like our students to achieve during their studies. ‘Active and Global citizenship’ is one of them. It stipulates that students need to be able to

  • recognise and actively seek to address global social trends and challenges
  • view the world from the perspective of different cultures
  • participate in the community at a local, national and global level
  • take account of and value diversity

The design and delivery of the taught curriculum plays a central role in supporting our students to develop these attributes. Our Strategy for Learning stipulates that ‘global learning’ is to be embedded in all programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

What is an internationalised curriculum?

The term ‘curriculum’ refers to the totality of the GCU student learning experience, including the taught curriculum and the informal one which students experience through co- and extracurricular activities. This resource focuses on the formal taught curriculum.

There are many different views and definitions of an internationalised curriculum. Betty Leask’s definition (Leask, 2015, 9) remains the most cited.

Internationalisation of the curriculum is the incorporation of international, intercultural, and/or global dimensions into the content of the curriculum as well as the learning outcomes, assessment tasks, teaching methods, and support services of a program of study.

How that can be achieved is subject to lively debate. As a first step of any curriculum planning we need to decide what competencies our students need in order to act as the ‘active global citizens’ our Common Good attributes stipulate?

The Common Good Curriculum mapping tool identifies the following attributes.

As ‘active and global citizens’ students should be

  • Acting honestly, fairly and ethically
  • Recognising and actively seeking to address global social trends and challenges
  • Viewing the world from the perspective of different cultures
  • Participating in the community at a local, national and global level
  • Taking account of and valuing diversity
  • Exploring social problems and taking action to build a more just and sustainable society
  • Addressing inequality and disadvantage

The University of Warwick’s Global People Project (Reid et al, 2010) explored in more detail what behaviours should be encouraged to prepare students for life as global citizens. They can be found here .

What is intercultural competence?

‘Intercultural competence’ has figured prominently in the debate about ‘global citizenship’ .

A great deal of research has been undertaken in the field which has led to many different definitions and understandings. We would like to propose a definition that can inform our debate about internationalising the curriculum at GCU. It starts with a definition of 'culture'.

Culture can be defined as “the sum of a way of life, including expected behaviour, beliefs, values, language and living practices shared by members of a society. It consists of both explicit and implicit rules through which experience is interpreted”. (Herbig, 1998) Geert Hofstede, the most famous researcher in the field, refers to culture as a “programming of the mind” (Hofstede, 2001).

Based on an understanding of ‘culture’ as a set of values, Deardorff provides the following definition of intercultural competence:

“Intercultural competence is the ability to develop targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behaviour and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions.” (Deardorff, 2006)

Intercultural competence is made up of different elements which can be found here .

How can I embed an internationalised curriculum in my teaching?

The first step on the journey of internationalising the curriculum would be to establish what you are already doing. Your modules might contain international and/ or intercultural elements already but they are not always sufficiently explicit to your students.

GCU developed an internal CPD resource which identifies the features of an internationalised curriculum . The 10 Principles of an Internationalised Curriculum’ are designed to support the curriculum review process at programme level but could also be helpful in reviewing your teaching at module level. You might be drawing on international research findings to inform your teaching on a very regular basis. You could consider extending this to include an international element in your assessment tasks or encourage your students to explore professional practice in different countries.

To assist you further in your review an audit tool has been designed which supports you in identifying examples of good practice as well areas for enhancement.

What resources are available at GCU?

How can we translate the university’s high ambitions into the discipline specific teaching on the ground?

The University offers a variety of academic development support for academic staff. The Global Perspectives Project is the university’s central resource on the internationalisation of the curriculum. It presents a wide variety of tools and resources such as practical suggestions for integrating internationalisation into the teaching in different disciplines. Here you can also find good practice examples from other institutions which might give you an idea of how you could embed internationalisation in your own teaching.

How can we provide all our students with an international learning experience?

In our debate about internationalisation we often focus on the needs of the increasing number of international students on our campus. How can we support them, enhance their learning experience and raise their cultural awareness?

What is often overlooked is that these students have already taken the first step towards developing intercultural awareness and are still a minority in our classrooms. What about the vast majority of our home students who are often local and have not had the opportunity to travel and/ or study abroad?

Encouraging participation in international exchange programmes is a familiar and no doubt very valuable, approach but it is also well known that only a minority of students actually can or do take advantage of it. Financial constraints, family commitments and a lack of confidence are often cited as reasons for a poor uptake of physical exchanges. We cannot, therefore, rely on physical mobility alone to give our students an international experience. As a result, the idea of ‘virtual mobility’ or ‘internationalisation at home’ has become increasingly popular. It promotes the use of technology to connect students and staff across different countries and cultures, work on joint projects and increase their cultural awareness in the process.

Using social media to connect to your peers in the world

As one example of this the university is supporting staff in using the COIL approach in their teaching. COIL stands for Collaborative Online International Learning. Coordinated by the State University New York (SUNY) it champions the use of internet-based tools and innovative on-line pedagogies to connect students and staff from different countries at module level. More information about COIL can be found here

The university is a partner in the COIL Centre’s global partner network which offers opportunities for collaborations with staff and students in over 40 different countries.

Guidelines on using COIL can be found here. The video below explains the COIL approach in more detail. We have piloted it in different modules across the university and published a case study on a COIL collaboration between students on a third year entrepreneurship module in GSBS and their peers at Kansai University, Japan. If you would like to know more about it, please consult the reference list below.

How can we engage our students?

Results of internal scoping studies show that students are enthusiastic about the internationalisation agenda and do not need much persuading to engage with it. They are aware of the demands of the global employment market and expect to be prepared for competing with their international peers.(Further details on the scoping studies can be obtained from Sabine McKinnon in the Department of Academic Quality and Development sabine.mckinnon@gcu.ac.uk )

Responses from GSBS students who took part in a recent COIL project with Kansai University in Japan reveal their appreciation of international learning opportunities.

“As a result of this module I feel that I have learnt a lot about not only Japanese culture but also the Scottish culture as well. I also feel that it has improved my intercultural skills as I now want to learn more about different cultures throughout the world.”

Their sentiments are echoed by Audio Technology students in SEBE who worked on a COIL project with SUNY Oswego university:

I learned how much work it takes to collaborate with another country. I learned that we have different communication styles and different work ethics.
It was good to work on music with people from somewhere else and figure out ways to find common ground when working together.

Activity to encourage discussion and reflection

This activity aims to assist individual academics, programme teams and students in evaluating their own intercultural competence. It can be used to stimulate a discussion with colleagues or students about the concept of intercultural competence and its importance for developing global citizenship.

Further CPD opportunities

The Department of Academic Quality and Development is offering further CPD opportunities for staff who are interested in internationalising the curriculum.

One of the workshops in our CPD series on ‘Fundamentals of Learning and Teaching’ focuses on developing intercultural awareness. The series is aimed at novice teachers and staff who would like to refresh their knowledge of learning and teaching skills. An overview of the series can be found here. Internationalisation is also embedded in our Pg Academic Practice programme (PgCAP) for new teaching staff which is currently being refreshed.

A new workshop series on internationalisation for students and staff is currently being developed.


Caruana, V.(2010) The relevance of the internationalised curriculum to graduate capability: the role of new lecturers’ attitudes in shaping the ‘student voice’. In: Jones, E.(ed) Internationalisation and the Student Voice, Routledge: London, pp.30-43.

Deardorff, D. K. (2006) , The Identification and Assessment of Intercultural Competence as a Student Outcome of Internationalization at Institutions of Higher Education in the United States, Journal of Studies in International Education 10:241-266

Herbig, P. (1998) Handbook of Cross-Cultural Marketing, New York: The Haworth Press

Hofstede, G. (2001) Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, London: Sage

Leask, B. 2015. Internationalizing the Curriculum. Abingdon: Routledge.

Leask, B. and Carroll, J. (2011) Moving beyond ‘wishing and hoping’: internationalisation and student experiences of inclusion and engagement, Higher Education Research and Development, Vo. 30, No. 5, October 2011, 647-659

McKinnon, S., Smith, A. and Thomson, J. (2015) A window to the world: using technology to internationalise entrepreneurship education. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, Vol 3, Issue 3 (2015), pp 15-23

McKinnon, S., Hammond, A. and Foster, M. (2017) Reflecting on the value of resources for internationalising the curriculum: exploring academic perspectives, Journal of Further and Higher Education, published online 21 August

Moran Hansen, H. (2002) Defining international education, New Directions for Higher Education, Volume 2002, Issue 117, Spring 2002 , pp 5–12


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