Pluralist internationalism, global justice, and international student recruitment

Year: 2021

Author: Mulvey, Benjamin

Type of paper: Individual Paper

The number of international students in the UK has risen considerably in recent years. These students, now constituting around one-fifth of the student body in UK universities, are viewed primarily in terms of the economic benefits they bring to the host country, and are effectively excluded from discussions around social justice in access to higher education. Responding to calls for further consideration of the ethics of this situation, this article seeks to offer a novel perspective by drawing on a “pluralist internationalist” theory of global justice. The question of what “we” (as citizens of the same country) owe to individuals from other countries has, broadly speaking, been considered through one of two lenses, referred to in this article as “statism” and “cosmopolitanism”: this is also true of the limited debate around the ethical dimensions of international student recruitment in the UK. Pluralist internationalism sets out a substantive alternative that lies between these two, arguing that citizens have particular rights and moral duties resulting from their shared membership of state, but that there are also other obligations of justice that apply to all human beings, regardless of nationality, due to for example our common humanity and our shared membership of a global order. The analysis results in two key points. The first is that if the normative peculiarity of the state is taken as a starting point, it is still clear that current practices around international student recruitment in the UK are unjust. The second is that reducing the barriers to study in the UK for international students may be counter-productive, given the possibility that doing so may have the effect of entrenching inequalities between states. This is because doing so may actually inhibit the development of effective institutions in source countries for a number a reasons. Thus, in terms of future policy shifts at both the national and institutional level, reducing the negative effects of international student mobility (such as brain drain) and aiding the development of foreign higher education systems should be a priority. The suggestions that result from applying this theory offer a substantive alternative to both the nationally-oriented assumptions of current policy, and to other contributions to the debate within academia, which have drawn on the cosmopolitan tradition of global justice.