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The ethics and social justice of valuing international student diversity

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posted on 2023-01-18, 15:38 authored by Sarah McLaren
Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the School of Education, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, La Trobe University, Bundoora.

As international student presence has expanded in Australia, it is important to understand the challenges that may emerge for this cohort. Though much has been written about the difficulties faced when studying abroad, the tendency has been to homogenise this populace as one in ‘deficit’ and in need of adapting to the host culture. Moreover, in the current era of marketised education a tension exists between an instrumental valuing of the international student for her or his economic contributions versus intrinsically aligned regard for fundamental human worth. This is reflected in Australia by a range of socioeconomic inequalities and well-being harms which are potentiated by stakeholder focus on protecting the student’s consumer rights to the neglect of ensuring well-being. Based on these well-being concerns, this inquiry explores the valuing diversity notion with respect to its meaning and social justice contribution from 12 international studentparticipant perspectives. Utilising constructivist grounded theory methods, a participantcentred version of Sen’s (1979a) open social justice framework was mobilised for engaging with the data, primarily accessed through in-depth interviews. Six main relational postures emerged which, when present or in lack, conferred well-being implications: making an effort; providing help, support and opportunities; being authentic; being inclusive; instrumental valuing; and duty-bound valuing. Finding valuing diversity’s meaning and social justice potential in the interpersonal relation meant a merging of my research foci and my appending Sen’s framework with Levinas’ (1969) vision of ethics as first philosophy. This Senian-Levinasian scaffold reframed the relational postures as ethical discourses for return to the data and exploratory theory building. Whereas unethical discourses inhibit well-being through homogenising processes, valuing diversity’s social justice potential lies in ethical variants whereby diversity is valorised in the immediacy of the self-Other relation. The participants’ insights suggest implications for international education’s various stakeholders to facilitate international student well-being and social justice.


Center or Department

College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce. School of Education.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over the content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis. The author has declared that any third party copyright material contained within the thesis made available here is reproduced and communicated with permission. If you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact us with the details.

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