On the benefits of evaluating international activity
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.