Internationalising Academia – Internationalising Teacher Training?


Internationalisation is revolutionising academia: universities are experiencing cross-border competition for students and research projects and face an increasingly multi-cultural setting at home. Accordingly, students’ training has to face new challenges. However, we tend to forget that they could already arrive well prepared, qualified by a school system that takes into account an increasingly international education. We argue that for the internationalisation of universities to succeed, it must also take into account students’ training prior to tertiary education. But the quality of school education depends largely on the skills of the teachers (c.f. Hattie 2008), who in turn were trained at the university or a specific institution of higher education. Based on this strong link between higher education and primary/secondary education, it is worthwhile to examine how internationalisation is taken into account during pre-service teacher training.

The current challenges faced by the European school system illustrate the need for primary and secondary education to react to internationalisation:

(1) Mobility has increased worldwide and information is no longer restricted to national borders. Schools must prepare students for this reality, not only in an academic setting, and teachers likewise need to be prepared. The increasing demand for bilingual schools is just one indication that this is the case.

(2) Schools themselves are facing more intercultural settings: students have diverse family backgrounds and digital media enable them to do research and share ideas in a world without borders. In an investigation conducted by the European Commission on challenges for schools in the 21st century, three out of eight major issues raised were related to increased diversity (Bartolo & Smyth 2009).

However, several structural obstacles impede systematic reforms of school systems that take into account an increasingly international education. School education is governed by national policy. Even so, all EU countries have chosen to train teachers in higher education institutions, whether universities or specific professional training institutions. Still, each country does so in its own way: the European Parliamentary Research Service identifies 28 different teacher education systems that are currently in place (European Parliamentary Research Service 2014).

Similarly, pre-service teacher training prepares people for a career path with a mostly national domestic focus. This occurs to the point that, in Germany, for example, even intra-national professional mobility between states is not always easy. Accordingly, international qualifications do not necessarily increase future teachers’ career prospects.

Lastly, universities must adapt to government regulations. Teacher trainers doubt that higher education institutions are actually able to adapt important reforms themselves within the regulatory framework (DAAD 2013).

There are many examples of initiatives to foster internationalisation in pre-service teacher training. We shall name some examples here, which illustrate some of the most promising approaches:

Large-scale international education studies were a trailblazing field for internationalisation. Schools have become involved in trans-border competitiveness for excellence. The OECD’s PISA study, for example, lead to a broad public debate on education quality.

Several reforms have been introduced since, often based on the partial adaptation of successful concepts from other school systems. Empirical educational research has since been introduced into many teacher training curricula, resulting in an increased awareness of other education systems among student teachers.

Furthermore, many initiatives directly support the improvement of students’ inter-cultural skills during pre-service teacher training. Examples include the following approaches:

(1) Relevant contents and skills are included in current and new curricula. Both school curricula and teacher training courses increasingly include the acquisition of inter-cultural skills. In Berlin, for example, teaching German as a second language is included in the standard curriculum for teacher training, which will help future teachers to cope better with multi-cultural classroom settings (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 2014). A very useful similar measure could be specifically interactive workshops that foster the development of inter-cultural skills through practical exercises. This type of training has already gained in importance at international companies.

(2) Teaching students’ mobility should be increased and further encouraged. The traditional approach includes semesters at a partner university, but other possibilities include study trips to teacher training institutions abroad or teaching internships at a foreign school. The European Union encourages this kind of exchange: teacher education is part of the Education and Training 2020 program, and sources for funding teacher mobility have been increased through Erasmus+ (European Parliament Research Service 2014).

(3) Blended learning courses can offer a way of increasing learning cooperation with teaching students from other universities. They offer the experience of working in an international group on a common topic. MOOCs might be one instrument to facilitate students’ learning in an interactive online setting. Training institutions would need to find a way to acknowledge credit earned in these kinds of courses.

Internationalisation is a fact and the skills it requires will be increasingly sought by students leaving school to start working in various professions. Even though national domestic school education systems remain quite closed, there is great awareness of the growing importance of inter-cultural skills. While many initiatives by training institutions, teacher trainers or regional education administration exist, one of the biggest challenges remains how to overcome the structural obstacles.

(A DAAD-initiated conference dealt with the topic in December 2013. The participants passed a resolution addressing decision-makers to handle specific structural obstacles impeding the internationalisation of teacher training. The resolution in German:


Bennett, Milton, J. 1993, ‘Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity’ in: Paige, M.R. (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience, pp. 21-71, Intercultural Press S, Yarmouth.

Bartolo, Paul & Geri Smyth 2009. ‘Teacher Education for Diversity’ in: Swennen, Anja and Marcel van der Klink (Eds.), Becoming a Teacher Educator, pp. 117-132, Springer, Amsterdam.

DAAD 2013, Fachtagung zur Internationalisierung der Lehrerbildung. Available from: [September 09 2014].

DAAD 2013, Lehrerbildung muss internationaler werden: Resolution zur Internationalisierung der Lehramtsausbildung. Available from: [September 09 2014].

European Parliament Research Service 2014, Teacher Education in Europe. Available from: [September 09 2014].

Hattie, John A. 2008, Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, Routledge.

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 2014, Sprachen – Bilden – Chancen. Available from [September 09 2014].

Swennen, Anja and Marcel van der Klink 2009, Becoming a Teacher Educator, Elsevier, Amsterdam.

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Featured image credit:  International Education Week la Biblioteca Centrală 2013, Available from: [September 09 2014].