A Critical-Relational Approach to Community Development That Increases Well-Being, Learning Outcomes and Retention of International Students

  • Athena LathourasEmail author


This chapter analyses the contemporary context of a greenfield public university whose vision it is to grow its international standing and be an asset for the regional communities in which its campuses are situated. A key strategy for its growth is to attract international students and provide them with a high-quality educational experience. In 2013–2015 a four-semester participatory action research project explored what a critical-relational approach to community development could bring to increase the well-being, learning outcomes and retention of international students. The need for the project arose when international students were facing significant barriers impacting on their educational outcomes. This was the catalyst to develop a more ethical approach to education and four phases of action-research employed ‘dialogue circles’ for peer support, surveys and in-depth interviews, creating feedback loops informing subsequent action. Findings revealed that with a focus on equity it is possible to develop inclusive processes that create a sense of community and belonging, foster well-being, positive educational outcomes and retention. The co-learning environments proved to benefit both students and their educators who created more inclusive and engaged participation in the cross-cultural classroom. This work endures today with findings from the formal research project embedded institutionally. With theoretical knowledge and collegial support for educators to experiment with actions in line with a critical tradition of community development, overall, it remains an ethical stance to resist the worst elements of commodified education system.


International students Internationalisation Community development Community 



I am grateful for the support of colleagues who have contributed to the project: Carey Shaw, Kezi Holmquest, Sam Glazier, Natalie Alexander, Sindhu Pauly, Kerry Greene, Mandula Barta and Phillipa Wiley.


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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of the Sunshine CoastMaroochydoreAustralia

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