Market exclusions and false inclusions: Mapping obstacles for more ethical approaches in the internationalization of higher education

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

University of Oulu, lecture hall L10. Remote access:

Topic of the dissertation

Market exclusions and false inclusions: Mapping obstacles for more ethical approaches in the internationalization of higher education

Doctoral candidate

Master of Arts in Education Jani Haapakoski

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Education, Values, Ideologies and Social Contexts of Education

Subject of study

Educational Sciences


Professor Fazal Rizvi, University of Melbourne, Australia


Professor Elina Lehtomäki, University of Oulu

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Internationalization of higher education as ethical activity

In the past couple of decades, internationalization has become a vital part of the functions of universities and universities of applied sciences. This development was first guided by educational and later more commercial, neoliberal, rationales. The strengthening of the latter aims is visible, for example, in the increase in education export aims, and the increasing economic focus brings forth concerns about the ethicality of the activities. For example, it can be inquired what happens to the egalitarian nature of Finnish education through the introduction of tuition fees? On a global level, it can be asked what effects education export has for the developing economies and if internationalization has a truly global scale or whether it is comprised of asymmetric flows of students from the peripheries to the centers?

The PhD research explores the ethical challenges of higher education from different perspectives. Special attention is paid to the effects of the commercialization of higher education and the imbalance between the Western countries and the developing economies regarding the distribution of resources and the generation of knowledge. The research utilizes interview data from internationalization professionals from seven different countries and document data. The research draws from critical discourse analysis and utilizes discourse analysis and social cartography to analyze and present the data.

According to the results, commercial aims have become a natural and dominant part of the internationalization of higher education, which are visible, for example, in the universities focus on education export activities and the emphasis on competition through the international university rankings. Through the international league tables, universities in Finland and other countries participate in the global educational markets that require big investments but offer uncertain returns.

When discussing the ethical dimension of the internationalization of higher education, it is important to pay attention to the asymmetry in the division of resources globally and the persisting effects of colonialism. The study explores how internationalization is oftentimes seen as neutral activity where the benefits are thought to be distributed equally. However, for example, the flows of international degree students are rather unilateral, typically moving from the south to the north. As long as Western higher education is seen as a ubiquitous and a progressive force, its role in producing global injustices can be ignored or rejected, which can lead to the naturalization of unethical practices.

The research adds to the critical scholarship in the internationalization of higher education and provides practitioners with tools to identify and discuss the obstacles for more ethically driven internationalization.
Last updated: 1.3.2023