Dr Emily F. Henderson, Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick

I arrived at Warwick’s Centre for Education Studies in December 2015 with the designated role of developing a new MA course, ‘Global Education and International Development’, which opens to its first cohort of students in October 2017. It is a privilege to be able to develop a brand new course, and to pitch the course as a marker of ‘now’. Rather than inching along with alterations and additions, as long-standing courses are obliged to do, I have been able to embrace a moment in time that is dedicated to thinking about the concepts of global education and international development, to questioning received modes of thinking, and to considering the implications of the changing global landscapes. International development is perennially a popular subject at Master’s level, and it traditionally attracts a wide range of students with diverse international experience. It is an exciting subject to teach, and thinking about how to teach it is just as exciting.

However, there is an accompanying challenge – a questioning of the identity and legacy of a course that builds on the term ‘international development’. ‘Developing’ and ‘developed’ are terms that are widely critiqued because of the connotations of colonialism, imperialism, and neo-colonialism which are attributed to the notion of ‘development’ in critical analyses of global structural inequalities and the predominance of Western liberal thinking as the centre of knowledge production. How to work with and yet against the heritage of international development? Faced with this challenge/opportunity, how to develop a future-facing course about international development in this current moment?

In making the shift in my thinking from UCL Institute of Education, where I did my Masters in Education, Gender and International Development as well as my PhD, to Warwick, I wanted to take this opportunity to find out about the ‘Warwick way’ of teaching international development. There is a strong sense of Warwick as specialising in critical development studies, rather than engaging predominantly in monitoring and evaluation work or consultancies, and in part this identity is developed within and by the International Development GRP (Global Research Priority), an interdisciplinary research-oriented network led by Shirin Rai and Ann Stewart. According to Ann, who has taught in Warwick’s Law School for many years, ‘the concept of development has become more problematic – although Warwick has always understood it to be thus’.

This blog post draws on contributions from academics who teach on International Development courses at Warwick, including those who have been doing so for decades, and those who have only just started developing new modules in this area. The departments represented in this piece are: Law, Politics and International Studies (PAIS), Sociology, Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies (CCMPS), Centre for Applied Linguistics (CAL). The piece includes perspectives from different Master’s programmes (see below for a full list) as well as different module leaders. Each contributor responded to a set of questions about their past, current and future teaching practice in the field of international development. The post makes a claim for the importance of giving our courses and pedagogies equal intellectual investment to our research and scholarship, and indeed for not separating these domains off from each other.


When thinking about what to teach in an international development course, other questions arise, including where to teach about, and when – and how to think about the what, where and when. The

issues that are taught about are of course interlinked with geographical locations deemed relevant (the where), and the notion of relevance is inflected by historical events (the when). Modes of thinking and theorising development (the how) likewise refract and are refracted by changing centres of knowledge and power. As expressed by Sam Adelman (Law) in relation to the international development curriculum, ‘as the world has changed, we have had to change’. His account of what has changed in the many years he has been teaching international development law at Warwick included changes of when: the 2008 financial crisis, for example, and a growing awareness of climate change, and where – he cited the rise of Asian economies as changing the landscape of development. He also referred to how in terms of the change of thinking that neoliberalism has brought from the 1980s onwards. Juanita Elias (PAIS) has over the last few years developed a new module, ‘The Politics of Development in Southeast Asia’. This module addresses in parallel changes to where, when, how – the regional focus of the module is justified by changes in development in Southeast Asia, and the ways in which these changes challenge assumptions about the very nature of development. For example, the direction of flow of international development funding is rethought when donors from China, for example, join the list of more conventional donors from international organisations and Global North countries.

There does seem to be a sense of a traditional international development curriculum for the more longstanding modules in Law, PAIS and Sociology, including issues of poverty, environmental degradation, gender equality, human rights, food security, conflict and war, democracy. Also emerging from the PAIS and Sociology contributions is a list of theoretical approaches that are considered key for an international development course, including human rights, capabilities approach, Marxism, postmodernism and poststructuralism, and working through colonialism, imperialism and orientalism, postcolonialism, neo-imperialism, and globalisation. Also on the what of this curriculum is the issue of measurement and accountability, notably including the Millennium Development Goals and the newer Sustainable Development Goals. While the issues and the theories mentioned here remain on the menu, the ways in which these theories are applied to different issues lead to developments in the curriculum. For example, Caroline Wright (Sociology), who leads on the ‘Gender, Imperialism and International Development’ module, noted that over time the traditional intersectional ways in which gender is addressed (race and class) have changed to include sexuality, dis/ability, age and non-binary gender. A second example is the re-viewing of traditional development issues, such as poverty and conflict, through the lens of culture, which Jonathan Vickery explained to me as a facet of the MA in Arts, Enterprise and Development (CCMPS).

It was clear from most of the contributors that Warwick’s international development modules tend to call into question the underpinnings of the concept of development. One module doing this in a particularly interesting way is Richard Smith’s (CAL) module, ‘English in International Development’, which is now in its third year. This module focuses on the role (and dominance) of the English language in development, given that English has historically been constructed as the language of development. The module addresses the role of English from several different angles, including English as an official language or a medium of instruction, English as a means of access to information and a route to employability. Some of the Warwick international development modules have reconfigured the where of the curriculum in line with contemporary development thought that requires us to understand development as a global issue that is happening everywhere – and that connects everywhere to everywhere else. Renske Doorenspleet (PAIS), who has been leading the module ‘Democratisation and Development’ in 2016/17, told me that she deliberately weaves development-related issues in Warwick’s local area into her curriculum, thus challenging her students to ‘think/talk about difficult issues which are actually happening on our own doorstep’. The CCMPS’ MA in Arts, Enterprise and Development has adopted this stance as an ethos for the whole programme; also referring to ‘doorstep’ development, course leader Jonathan Vickery explained that emphasis is placed on ‘field-based study of actual projects [in Coventry and the region], people’s experiences, and strategic ways of shaping the environment we live in’.


Arguably, international development courses have their own style of teaching which results from the roles which many international development researchers take in capacity building exercises and training programmes, alongside their formal university roles. Moreover, many international development Masters-level programmes act as a stepping stone or professional development opportunity for professionals who may, at the point of re-entering higher education, be more accustomed to in-work training models than academic teaching. In any case, international development pedagogy, as Sam Adelman (Law) informed me, has always been interactive. This came through clearly in many of the contributions, both relating to ways of teaching within the classroom, and activities which propel the module outside of the classroom. Renske Doorenspleet (PAIS) referred to her mode of delivery as embedding theories and concepts in empirical practice and policymaking; she integrates her teaching with current affairs and the news, and films and exhibitions. Caroline Wright (Sociology), who leads on the MA Gender and International Development, stated that the course as a whole tried to problematise the figure of the ‘development expert’ and value situated knowledge and expertise. The module ‘Gender Analysis and Development Practice’, which Caroline designed but does not currently teach, employs a participatory pedagogy where the students lead and initiate activities as ‘producer/researchers’. This pedagogy was also evident in Jonathan Vickery’s (CCMPS) description of the MA Arts, Enterprise and Development pedagogy, where there is an emphasis on mutual learning – which includes the lecturers. Shirin Rai (PAIS) referred to several activities which extend the MA International Development beyond the classroom. These include a student blog, a student society and Facebook group called Warwick Global Development Society, and an annual student conference, in 2016/17 entitled ‘Questioning Inequality’. For the first time the MA International Development students are editing a book on the topic of ‘Questioning Inequalities’, which will be published in January 2018. Richard Smith (CAL) also referred to the international development research community at Warwick as a beneficial site for student engagement, as they can tap into the various ‘talks, events, newsletters’.

Student body

As I mentioned in the introduction to this piece, it is always exciting to work with students on international development courses. Often a wide range of different nationalities – and geographical trajectories – are represented on these courses (see my book Gender Pedagogy, 2015, pp. 24-33), and because of the huge range of professional – and life – experiences present, the students enhance the curriculum and learning for each other and the lecturer. Juanita Elias (PAIS) commented on this in relation to her regional module: ‘the teaching benefits hugely from the presence of students from Southeast Asia in the classroom’. Shirin Rai (PAIS) also referred to the relatively recent internationalisation of the student body as ‘a wonderful opportunity for students to interact’. However both Shirin Rai (PAIS) and Ann Stewart (Law) referred to changes in the student body that are resulting from changes to tuition fees in the UK. Shirin noted that there are fewer BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) and economically disadvantaged students from Britain, and fewer mature students (the majority of whom were women) enrolling in Warwick courses. Clearly then the changes in tuition fees have impacted upon the representation of certain sections of the student body. While I have gestured to the huge benefit from and mutual learning opportunity of working with a group of students who have substantial professional and life experiences before pursuing study at Masters-level, it is clear from Shirin’s and also Ann’s accounts that this section of the student body is dwindling. Ann commented that on the International Development Law and Human Rights Master’s course there are many more students who are transitioning immediately from undergraduate to Master’s level, and fewer students arriving with substantial professional experience. Ann also referred to a change in student type, where more students are enrolling on the Master’s in order to work in human rights legal practice, rather than in more ‘immediate development issues’ at, for example, NGO level. The newer generation of students that Ann is working with have more gender knowledge than previous cohorts, but often less political commitment – the focus is more on developing professionally rather than ‘seeking to use the knowledge gained from the course in their activism’.

Looking forward from this moment, both Juanita Elias (PAIS) and Caroline Wright (Sociology) expressed concerns about the effect that UK border policies and tuition fee increases may have on the student body of international development courses. Juanita stated that the students she has taught from Thailand, Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia have been ‘an amazing asset to the classroom experience especially given the really limited exposure to the [Southeast Asia] region that our home/EU students have’, and felt that increasingly stringent visa restrictions would limit the possibilities for mutual learning in the module. Caroline also expressed concern about the possibility for courses of this kind to continue in the long-term, as many overseas students cannot enroll on UK courses because of the high international fees. She added to this that UK students may feel less prepared to enroll on a Master’s course, given the debt accrued at undergraduate level. She also stated that working part time during the Master’s was becoming more necessary for students, thus reducing the time commitment to the course.

The future

These issues of a changing, perhaps diminishing student body are issues of the future. This piece has tried to present a mixed picture of the future. There are reasons to be optimistic for the future of international development courses – the field is always changing and the ideas and the ways of teaching and learning those ideas give those of us who are teaching in this field constant avenues for evolution and innovation. There are also uncertainties that the field is facing, in terms of student numbers (though at least international development courses may be less hard-hit by Brexit…) and how policy changes relating to borders and higher education could change the viability of our courses. Some of the challenges for the future that contributors identified relate to the issues outlined in previous sections of the post. Regarding the changing curriculum of international development studies, both Ann Stewart (Law) and Sam Adelman (Law) discussed the future of the term ‘international development’, and whether it could or should be replaced. Returning to the question of the where of an international development curriculum, Sam referred to the growth of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) nations and the resultant changes in the way that development is being enacted and managed – keeping up to date with these changes, and the changes in thinking that they provoke, is part of our responsibility as teachers of international development.

The future of international development pedagogy was addressed by some of the contributors. Jonathan Vickery (CCMPS) referred to the employability agenda that is increasingly embedded in UK higher education institutions’ policy and practice. He referred to the ‘career pathway’ that is expected of many courses, and the difficulty of channeling interdisciplinary knowledge into externally recognisable pathways. Renske Doorenspleet (PAIS) identified the challenge of easy access to huge amounts of data and information on the internet – this is of course a benefit in some ways, but it presents a challenge as to how to teach students to recognise and engage with the most reliable sources. Finally, Richard Smith (CAL) identified an opportunity – that the future could involve new possibilities of working more closely with external organisations, such as NGOs and course alumni, to enhance the current learning and teaching in this area.

This completes my tour of international development teaching at Warwick. I am looking forward to joining this learning and teaching community as the first year of MA Global Education and International Development approaches. I recognise many of the principles, opportunities and challenges identified above from planning the MA programme that I will be leading. There are tensions in the course between its roots in international development thought and its stance as critical of development with its connotations as something that happens ‘elsewhere’. In some ways the curriculum of the core module, ‘Understanding Global Education and International Development’ directly reflects many of the traditional issues and theories listed above, but skewed towards educational concerns. In other ways, when I look back at my planning process, I discern my own resistance to fully aligning the course with development as it has traditionally been conceived; the course is oriented towards development understood as a globally connected phenomenon. This resistance is particularly clear in the professional placement module, ‘Enacting Global Education and International Development’, where students conduct a 30-hour placement over a 10-week basis in a local educational institution or organisation which works on global issues, accompanied by a two-hour workshop on different genres of writing for and about global education. Leading on from the ‘doorstep’ development mentioned above, the local placement is specifically designed to embed traditional development issues which are covered in the core module within a UK context. The course as a whole aims to act as a source of both academic and professional development for students, so these requirements are balanced between the two key modules, which have been developed from scratch for this MA. The core module is more of a traditional module, with weekly lecture/workshop sessions and an assessed essay. The placement module is geared towards professionally useful but critical knowledge production, and the assessment involves producing a presentation and a report about an aspect of the placement, which the placement providers can engage with. It is my intention to establish a strong alumni network for the course, so that in a few years it will become its own community of placement and employment options for current students.

About Emily F. Henderson:

Emily is an Assistant Professor in the Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick, and course leader for MA Global Education and International Development. She represents the Centre for Education Studies on the Steering Committee of the International Development GRP at Warwick. She is author of Gender Pedagogy: Teaching, Learning and Tracing Gender in Higher Education (Palgrave, 2015).

With thanks to:

Shirin Rai, Renske Doorenspleet and Juanita Elias (PAIS), Ann Stewart and Sam Adelman (Law), Jonathan Vickery (CCMPS), Caroline Wright (Sociology), Richard Smith (CAL) for their contributions to this piece.

Warwick’s Postgraduate Taught International Development Provision:

Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies (CCMPS),  Arts, Enterprise and Development

Centre for Education Studies (CES), Global Education and International Development

Law, International Human Rights and Development Law

Politics and International Studies (PAIS), International Development

Sociology, Gender and International Development