The Role of Inclusion in Macro‐Regional Policies for Student Mobility

Europe of Knowledge |


Alina Felder & Merli Tamtik

Even though barrier‐free access to student mobility has become a significant policy problem for governments (Cairns, 2019), issues of social justice have been largely absent from institutional strategies of higher education (HE) internationalisation (Buckner et al., 2020a; Özturgut 2017). With our research we contribute to this aspect, offering a comparative perspective on the role of inclusion in student mobility policies in Canada and the EU.


Approaching inclusion as public good or ideology?

Macro‐regional policies for HE internationalisation should reflect the task of cohesion which is a central purpose of federal/macro-regional governance. Against the backdrop of market‐driven competition dynamics in higher education, the provision of barrier‐free opportunities for the participation of all in student mobility programmes may be based on two different approaches towards inclusion (Janebova & Johnstone, 2020). One approach views inclusion in student mobility as a public good, providing widened access to mobile citizens who get employed and can contribute to economic growth. The second approach views inclusion as an ideology that critically addresses social justice disparities resulting from student mobility.

Our analysis reveals that the EU’s approach to inclusion has been consistently focused on mobility serving the public good, while Canada has been promoting inclusion as a matter of its social justice agenda which serves other purposes such as foreign policy or immigration. In both the Canadian and EU contexts, inclusion entered the agenda of federal/supranational student mobility policy through functional and organisational instruments of HE regionalisation. These are student mobility programmes and staff and infrastructure serving to implement mobility funding and joint study programmes, which must comply with the provisions for equality of access and participation.

Even though in the two compared contexts inclusion has been defined as a problem, it has not necessarily been at the core of policy solutions and, thus, has not played the role of a stand‐alone rationale guiding supranational/federal student mobility policy. This connects to the pursued political approaches of HE regionalisation. In the case of the EU, student mobility has always been tied to pursuing the political project of EU economic and social integration, whereas in Canada international education has acquired its own standing in the federal policy agenda only very recently.


Why and how inclusion has (not) played a role

The two central factors that explain why and how the issue of inclusion has (not) played a role in macro-regional student mobility policy, are national/provincial sensitivity and wider supranational/federal policy objectives. EU action is dependent on member state agreement, whereby inclusion has only found an entrance into supranational student mobility concerns when it has been positioned as fostering European integration more generally. With regards to Canada, the federal government cannot overstep its lack of jurisdiction over education, which is a provincial responsibility. The federal role in student mobility has been less related to regional integration but more strongly to a pan‐Canadian skilled labour and immigration agenda.

Overall, we find that inclusion has not been a federal/supranational policy priority of its own standing until recently but instead has functioned as a silent, supportive idea in the economic and political realms of student mobility. Thus, inclusion is more considered to support the expansion of the societal benefits of internationalisation instead of an ideology that systemically tackles inequitable practices. We expect that the tension between inclusion‐related and economic factors not only applies to other cases of macro-regional student mobility policies, but also to further public policies that are characterised by shifts from market building to social cohesion.


This blog post is based on our paper published as part of the Politics and Governance Special Issue ‘United in Uniqueness? Lessons From Canadian Politics for European Union Studies’ edited by Johannes Müller Gómez (Université de Montréal / Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich), Lori Thorlakson (University of Alberta), and Alexander Hoppe (Utrecht University). Here you can access the article in full.


Alina Felder is a postdoctoral researcher at GOVPET Leading House (University of St. Gallen, Switzerland), which addresses specific forms of governance in collective skill formation systems. Previously, she was a doctoral research fellow at the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences (BAGSS) and studied the cross‐border cooperation of universities. Her research interests include EU public policy‐making, Europeanisation, border studies, and interest group representation.

Merli Tamtik is an associate professor of educational administration in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba (Canada). Her research interests are in multi‐level governance, internationalisation of (higher) education, and education policy. In 2020, Dr. Tamtik was awarded the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE) Catalyst Award for the co‐edited book International Education as Public Policy in Canada. She is a vice‐president of the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE).



Buckner, E., Clerk, S., Marroquin, A., & Zhang, Y. (2020). Strategic benefits, symbolic commitments: How Canadian colleges and universities frame inter‐nationalization. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 50(4), 20–36.

Cairns, D. (2019). Researching social inclusion in student mobility: Methodological strategies in studying the Erasmus programme. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 42(2), 137–147.

Janebova, E., & Johnstone, C. J. (2020). Mapping the dimensions of inclusive internationalization. In S. Kommers & K. Bista (Eds.), Inequalities in study abroad and student mobility (pp. 115–128). Routledge.

Özturgut, O. (2017). Internationalization for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Journal of Higher Education Theory & Practice, 17(6), 83–91.