17 October 2017 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
Advanced Search
View Printable Version
HE internationalisation – What gets measured, gets funded

The fourth annual Global Survey on the Internationalization of Higher Education by the International Association of Universities is revealing. First, the survey shows that there is growing interest among higher education institutions in the topic. The number of institutions that participated in this recent survey – 1,336 from 131 different countries – doubled the number of respondents from the previous study in 2010.

Despite growing interest in internationalisation, institutions have not maximised its potential. This is primarily due to lack of attention to two extremes of the internationalisation process.

First, the definition of internationalisation is not adapted to higher education institutions’ institutional mission and context. Second, adequate efforts are not being made in assessing the impact of internationalisation on the campus community.

Defining internationalisation: Mission over movement

The educationalist Professor Jane Knight describes internationalisation as the process of integrating an international or global dimension into the broad purpose, functions and delivery of higher education.

This definition is a useful guiding framework. However, it must be localised to fit the specific needs of an individual campus in three critical areas: people, ideas and places. In establishing parameters for success in these areas, a principle of mission over movement can be applied.

People are the heart of institutions. Successful internationalisation starts by considering the role that administrators, faculty, students and staff will play in internationalisation.

In terms of student mobility, leaders should decide what success would be at their institution. Before focusing on doubling study abroad figures or increasing revenue obtained through international student recruitment, leaders should focus on the competencies and goals for students outlined in their university mission.

Universities generate ideas. In the global knowledge economy ideas are an essential aspect of internationalisation.

Internationalisation strategies should incorporate global elements into research and curricula that are relevant to the mission of the institution. Core competencies and relevant research that will prepare students for the world should take precedence over unnecessary new movements toward curricular fads.

As places, universities are complex organisations. In terms of internationalisation, the physical space of a campus is important. Institutions should strive to establish campuses that are welcoming environments and are conducive to learning for a wide variety of students from various backgrounds, and to teaching for faculty of different national origins.

Place also matters for branch campuses. Universities should consider the mission and context of the home institution before considering a dramatic move to another place.

In the same way that ‘mind over matter’ can help the strong among us to avoid the empty calories in an extra slice of cake, mission over movement can help leaders focus on the substance of internationalisation at their campuses over the perceived glory of goals that do not fit the mission of their institutions.

Assessing internationalisation: Impact over input

Often, defining internationalisation is an iterative process of engaging multiple campus stakeholders, including university leadership, to come to a consensus. At other times, internationalisation does not get onto the leadership agenda and, even if it comes up, is viewed through a narrow lens.

According to an Inside Higher Ed survey, university and college presidents in the United States cited money as the most pressing issue for their campuses in the coming years. As a result, the discourse on ‘investing’ resources in internationalisation gets into tangible and intangible pay-offs.

In a very pertinent piece, “A Failure to Capitalize on Globalization” Harvey Charles, president of the Association of International Education Administrators, and Executive Director Darla Deardorff, highlight that: “Notwithstanding the broad, urgent and complex nature of comprehensive campus internationalisation, too often college presidents do not allocate the financial resources it requires.”

One of the reasons why internationalisation does not get the attention it deserves is the limited demonstrable impact of internationalisation at the campus level.

Charles and Deardoff assert that colleges “…that have embraced comprehensive internationalisation generate returns greater than the original investment in terms of grants, tuition revenue, reputation and ranking. The latter two outcomes, in turn, allow such institutions to attract the best and the brightest faculty and students, which helps to further perpetuate this virtuous cycle.”

Despite the veracity of the assertion, there is little data collected, assessed and disseminated at the institutional level on a systematic basis to support it.

This is where the focus on impact assessment will not only help in aligning resources to the mission of the institution, but also make the case for additional funding based on the evidence.

In addition, impact assessment can feed into strategy formulation as it helps in moving from anecdotal, intuition-driven strategies to more evidence-driven strategies.

In the simple definition of the OECD: “A properly designed impact evaluation can answer the question of whether the programme is working or not, and hence assist in decisions about scaling up.”

The importance of assessing impact in international higher education has also been raised by Professor Hans de Wit in “ Measuring Success in the Internationalisation of Higher Education” and independent consultant Madeleine F Green in “Measuring and Assessing Internationalization.”

We know that ‘what gets measured, gets done’, but perhaps the new mantra is ‘what gets measured, gets funded’.

Successful strategies for comprehensive internationalisation would not only focus on asking for resources (inputs), but would also put corresponding efforts into assessing the impact of internationalisation at all levels by investing in systematic data collection, analysis and dissemination.

Maximising the potential of internationalisation

Internationalisation of higher education is gaining increasing attention from universities for a variety of reasons.

However, the potential is not maximised due to lack of attention given to the importance of adapting the definition of internationalisation to the institutional mission and lack of commensurate efforts to assess the impact of internationalisation on the campus community.

To achieve the desired results, institutions need to become more focused not only on defining internationalisation beyond the movement of people, but also on assessing the impact on people. This approach not only engages stakeholders, but also ensures alignment with the institutional mission in an evidence-driven manner.

Dr Rahul Choudaha is the co-founder and CEO at DrEducation and http://interEDGE.org. He researches, speaks, writes, and consults on international student trends and its implications for institutional strategies and student success. Choudaha holds a doctorate in higher education from the University of Denver. He is reachable at info@DrEducation.com and @DrEducationBlog.


It is also imperative that more scholarships are made available so all eligible students, regardless of financial background, get to study abroad so that no further class division is enabled. University education absolutely must remain a meritocracy.

Christopher Weir on the University World News Facebook page
Receive UWN's free weekly e-newsletters

Email address *
First name *
Last name *
Post code / Zip code *
Country *
Organisation / institution *
Job title *
Please send me UWN’s Global Edition      Africa Edition     Both
I receive my email on my mobile phone
I have read the Terms & Conditions *