Within the discipline of social work, internationalisation has been the subject of significant debate for at least two decades, with increasing importance placed on developing global perspectives. The impact of globalising forces on social welfare services accentuates the importance of preparing social work graduates for practice in complex, intercultural local and global contexts.

Enhancing student learning and competence in the international and intercultural dimensions of social work practice has been in part achieved through international student exchanges and field placements in many schools of social work in Australia. Anecdotally, there is significant diversity in the ways in which such international placements and exchanges are planned, prepared for and implemented. However, there was little concrete information or data on the ways in which Australian social work education providers are handling these activities or what might constitute good practice in this area. As educators and researchers working in the field of international student exchange, we felt we needed to know more about the current levels of student exchange that are occurring, the goals of student exchange, the benefits of exchange to host institutions and the elements of good practice in international exchange.

What did this project investigate?

The key research question for this project was:

  • What is the state of current practice in the area of international student exchange, within the discipline of social work?

The sub-questions were:

  • How do Australian Schools of Social Work engage in student exchange?
  • What is the number of social work student exchanges occurring through Australian Schools of Social Work, the nature of exchanges, the goals, requirements and outcomes of exchanges?
  • What are the benefits to host institutions?
  • To what extent does international student exchange enhance student learning and intercultural competence?
  • What are the best practice features of exchange programs within the discipline of social work?
  • How can exchange be facilitated to foster ethical, reciprocal, positive and sustainable relationships within the Asia Pacific region?

What this project did

The project conducted surveys, interviews and focus groups with both staff and students to generate data from Australian social work education providers and their international partners, in order to document and analyse current practices.

Merging this data with a critical literature review, the project developed a set of draft guidelines for good practice in international student exchange.  A series of workshops was then held during 2016 to enable stakeholders to reflect on these draft project findings.

These workshops provided an opportunity to review the draft guidelines and collaborate across a range of disciplines in relation to good practice principles in student exchange.  A final set of ‘Ethical Practice Principles’ was then developed, detailing what the research identified as ethical and effective practice in international student exchange. These principles were further articulated as a set of “Principles in Action” which look at how the ethical principles might be resourced, supported and applied in practice.