Five years of changing internationalisation agendas

In the five years since University World News was established, the global higher education landscape and its international dimensions have been changing. Internationalisation objectives are increasingly visible on regional, national and institutional agendas.

The global competition for talent, the emergence of international branch campuses, growing complexity in cross-border activity and the debate in the United States on the payment of agents to recruit students are just some of the issues that until recently were not at the forefront of higher education debates.

However, these are now high priorities, not only for international educators but also for university presidents, associations of universities, politicians and other key higher education players around the world.

The emergence of a global higher education space has implications for our way of looking at internationalisation.

As the international dimensions of higher education have developed their own momentum and become a global topic of interest, the growing ‘globalisation of internationalisation’ requires a more nuanced approach to its interpretation and delivery than has hitherto been the case.

Several articles over the past few years have addressed, among other things, myths and misconceptions about internationalisation, the need for a more comprehensive process, or calls for action to adapt internationalisation to new circumstances.

Different interpretations, changing flows

We continue to talk as though we share the same understanding, but in fact there are many different regional and thematic interpretations of ‘internationalisation’.

It is timely to consider whether this variety in terms of interpretation is a barrier or a benefit and to question whether we are learning sufficiently from other global contexts, whether this is through reading beyond our usual paradigm, collaborative international research and practice or attendance at conferences overseas.

Can we learn from contributions to the internationalisation debate in different parts of the world and converge our discourse to deliver more effective practice now and in the future?

Western countries have tended to dominate research and discussions on internationalisation, and the flow of students has been largely in their direction. However, as more countries attract inbound students and open up to internationalisation, their experiences offer new perspectives and issues for consideration.

Some of the same questions arise that have long been debated in the West, yet these different contexts offer insights that can inform practice elsewhere, whether related to the student experience or to institutional concerns.

Over the past few years East Asia and South East Asia have become key recruiting regions, with Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, for example, all declaring themselves international education ‘hubs’.

To this list can be added China, Japan, Korea, India, Brazil, South Africa and the Middle East, among others, and many more if we include international branch campuses of Western universities.

Notions of importing and exporting countries are being turned upside down as students choose study destinations in countries once seen as merely sending students to the West to study. Global mobility flows are increasingly complex, then, offering new opportunities for those able and willing to access them.

Uncertainty about the direction of internationalisation

As yet the literature is relatively limited, but there is much to learn from different global standpoints. Views and research that are beginning to be documented in countries new to internationalisation can be of significant value to those countries with longer histories of internationalisation.

It is up to us all to learn from the varied contributions to debates and practice from all regions, not only those nations with more experience. Voices from countries with more recent international engagement should be heard as offering new perspectives and dimensions to the existing landscape of international education.

In addition to noticing growing diversity of geographical approaches to the various aspects of internationalisation in different parts of the world, it is also evident that attempts have been made to structure the increasingly broad concept of internationalisation by thematic differentiation.

This includes attempting to distinguish between globalisation and internationalisation, comprehensive, deep or ‘mainstreaming’ internationalisation, and internationalisation ‘at home’ or ‘abroad’.

These attempts to develop different dimensions, indicators and-or labels illustrate contemporary uncertainty about the direction internationalisation is taking.

At the same time it is interesting to see that, although different countries and regions or even institutions may have quite different starting points – for instance, they may adopt a more market-driven or a more cooperative approach – in the end they will still be faced with the need to focus on the teaching and learning process and student learning outcomes in order to support their aims.

In essence, internationalisation efforts in higher education need to be focused on moving away from input and output to more of a process and outcome approach to internationalisation, ensuring that students and faculty are prepared and competent for an increasingly global and interconnected society.

In our view for this process of globalisation of internationalisation to be effective, ethical, responsible and sustainable, the following priorities are essential:
  • • Learn from other, non-Western national and cultural contexts, not only through collaborations and transnational programmes but also through perspectives on internationalisation itself.
  • • Ensure that no single approach or paradigm dominates the discourse, but take into account the nature of internationalisation as a comprehensive process.
  • • See internationalisation not as a goal in itself, but as a contribution to the quality of students' education and research.
  • • Be more explicit about institutional and individual motivations so that internationalisation objectives and outcomes are clear and measurable.
  • • Pay more attention to faculty and student perspectives.
  • • Understand better the impact of international and intercultural learning outcomes on student employability, taking into account the perspectives of employers.
  • • Continue research on the benefits of internationalisation and the impact on students, faculty and administrators.
  • • Better understand the link between internationalisation and multiculturalism.
* Hans de Wit is director of the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, and professor of internationalisation at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. Email: Elspeth Jones is emerita professor of the internationalisation of higher education at Leeds Metropolitan University, and visiting professor at the University of Zagreb and Edge Hill University in the UK. Email: Twitter: @elspethjones. This is a summarised version of an article by the authors titled “Globalisation of Internationalisation: Thematic and regional reflections on a traditional concept”, for a special edition on Rethinking Internationalisation, in AUDEM: The International Journal of Higher Education and Democracy, November 2012.