Evaluating University Internationalisation

On the benefits of evaluating international activity

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A nice short article by Eva Egron-Polak, Secretary General of the International Association of Universities (IAU) published by the Academic Coordination Association.

Egron-Polak argues that there is a beneficial emphasis on evaluating internationalisation at present and that this trend means that international activity is being taken seriously and that all kinds of such activity is being fully and properly scrutinised. Moreover, it means that universities are continuing, quite properly, to debate their approach to internationalisation, in other words to ask ‘why are we doing this?’.

Although she acknowledges that terminology is difficult here and internationalisation has as many different definitions as there are institutions, Egron-Polak argues that there is real value in the kind of assessment undertaken by the IAU through its Internationalization Strategies Advisory Service (ISAS) where “the aim is to know whether or not the internationalisation goals are being achieved; and if we fall short of that, why this is the case, and what is required to redress the situation”.

The overall outcomes of the ISAS programme are quite interesting:

And, despite the vastly dissimilar contextual realities in each university, each ISAS project still confirmed that the dominant understanding of internationalisation of higher education remains relatively narrow or only partial. Consequently, internationalisation tends to be implemented in a limited manner. And when institutions embark on an assessment, they are likely to focus on just a few, basic aspects, using a limited set of (usually quantitative) indicators, such as the number of international students on campus, the number of exchange partnerships, the teaching of foreign languages and the hosting of visitors from abroad.  Despite the clear importance of these indicators of internationalisation, are they really a mark that the goals of internationalisation have been achieved?  How much do they tell us about the impact of these actions on the learning that takes place?  How well can the academic community reply to the ‘why’ questions that can be raised about these actions, particularly when they require institutional investment?

So actually it looks like many institutions really have quite a long way to go to develop a more comprehensive conceptualisation of internationalisation. This seems to me to be rather disappointing but perhaps not entirely surprising. It does take time to develop beyond the basic issues of student numbers and exchange agreements and it is perhaps therefore inevitable that some universities will be further down the road than others. In all cases though, stepping back and asking the ‘why’ questions in relation to different international activities does seem sensible.

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Some surprising views on the internationalisation of Higher Education

Why institutions think internationalisation is important

Really interesting piece in the Chronicle by Francisco Marmolejo on the Internationalization of Higher Education.

Those of us involved in the internationalization of higher education rely on a series of assumptions that are often not supported by data or evidence. For instance, we believe that internationalization is not only positive but also very relevant as a key component of the changing landscape of higher education. When asked about why internationalization is important we are prepared to recite a list of its many benefits for the students, the faculty, the institution, and to society in general. Well, if we don’t defend our cause (and our jobs) well, who will do it? We assume that internationalization is good, but we often lack any data to support our assumptions. Also, we don’t think too much about the fact that there are different rationales as to why, how, and for which purposes an institution or, for that matter, a whole region, wants to engage in an internationalization effort. At least, that’s what new data from the International Association of Universities (IAU) shows.

And there are some really striking differences across regions:

Where significant regional differences exist, it is not in the lamenting for the lack of proper funds, or in the importance of internationalization, but on the main rationales for these widely agreed upon beliefs. Worldwide, the top five reasons for internationalizing an institution are, in order of importance, to improve student preparedness; internationalize the curriculum; enhance the international profile of the institution; strengthen research and knowledge production; and diversify its faculty and staff. However, when the information is analyzed by regions, interesting variations are found. For instance, both North America and Latin America give much more importance to international preparedness of students than Europe. Interestingly, institutions in Africa consider as the more important internationalization rationale, to strengthen research and knowledge production. The Middle East gives the highest importance equally to improving student preparedness and also strengthening research.

The most interesting points for me are about the attitudes of North American institutions which do not seem to be interested in internationalisation for the purpose of profile raising of the university or for extending “international cooperation and solidarity”. Which does raise some questions about their main motivations.

Overall, it’s a really interesting piece on what looks like a very informative piece of work from the IAU.