Research reveals secret to better internationalisation

The presence of institutional strategies is essential to universities’ efforts to enhance internationalisation, according to new research by the European Association for International Education.

Noticeably, institutions that have not established any targeted strategy for internationalisation or those that are still in the process of developing a strategic plan are often regarded as “lagging behind” in the field of internationalisation, the researchers found.

By contrast, higher education institutions which are regarded as “leading” in internationalisation have elaborated “separate strategic plans for internationalisation, as opposed to having internationalisation incorporated into the overall institutional strategy”, the research concluded.

The European Association for International Education, or EAIE, founded in 1989, describes itself as the European centre for knowledge, expertise and networking in the internationalisation of higher education. It has 2,500 members from 95 countries.

The research for the EAIE Barometer 2014 was conducted in cooperation with Ecorys and was published this month in a report, The EAIE Barometer: Internationalisation in Europe, by Leonard Engel, Anna-Malin Sandström, Ruud van der Aa and Anna Glass.

In the field of higher education, globalisation and the subsequent interdependence of nations have caused a shift in policy. As a result, internationalisation of higher education has become a key policy objective in many states.

The research is an attempt to map the state of internationalisation in the European Higher Education Area from the point of view of the actors directly involved in internationalisation and outline key developments and challenges.

The findings are derived from a survey of EAIE’s members and the association’s network using a sampling method that resulted in a net response of 2,411 respondents derived from 33 of the 47 countries that comprise the European Higher Education Area, or EHEA.

Most of the respondents (2,093) work at higher education institutions across the EHEA. The remainder work in international higher education as policy-makers or in policy implementation.

Feedback on the draft survey was provided by 22 experts from 15 countries.

Sharp increase in internationalisation

The results of the EAIE Barometer 2014 demonstrate a “large number of substantial increases in internationalisation developments” in the past three years.

The main trends in internationalisation are growing activity in international strategic partnerships, including their formal implementation; and enhancement of the quality of services offered to international students, as well as intensification of the improvement of the quality of international courses and programmes.

“Developments in the last three years have also been marked by a notable increase in incoming and outgoing exchange students; and incoming international degree students,” the report says.

“There has also been an increase in the number of courses and programmes with an international component and English as the medium of instruction.”

In addition, institutions ‘leading’ in internationalisation also appear to have increased the number of incoming staff, a feature that appears to be a logical consequence of the attention that successful higher education institutions pay to innovation and research as part of their internationalisation strategies, the report says.

Importance of monitoring

The researchers also found that where monitoring and evaluation of internationalisation takes place at either national or institutional level, there is a higher increase in the numbers of incoming exchange students and more attention paid to the quality of international courses and the quality of services for international students.

“Where no regular monitoring and evaluation of developments are reported, significantly slower progress is reported in all aspects, further emphasising disparities in developments between institutions that have elaborated a strategic plan and those without a strategic plan for internationalisation.”

Institutions leading in internationalisation generally have targeted strategies for it and see their own policies as being more influential than external policies on internationalisation.

The highest levels of occurrence of monitoring and evaluation positively correlate with the presence of an internationalisation strategy.

Skills and knowledge needed

The survey also looked into the skills and knowledge required among staff for internationalisation.

Across all EHEA countries, three main challenges come to the fore with respect to staff working on internationalisation, notably: improving international strategic partnerships, increasing outgoing student mobility and implementation of the internationalisation strategy of the institution.

Professionals at institutions with no developed internationalisation strategy assess their skills and knowledge as insufficient more often than those at institutions that have a strategy for internationalisation.

By contrast, staff at higher education institutions with an elaborated, separate strategy for internationalisation or those that have included internationalisation as one of the priority areas tend to be relatively satisfied with their current skills and knowledge, the report says.

Important needs with regard to skills tend to refer most commonly to project and programme management, staff management and leadership, developing and maintaining international partnerships, marketing and proficiency in languages other than English.

Staff tend to need information mainly on the latest trends and developments in internationalisation, external funding programmes, developing an internationalisation strategy and evaluating international policies and programmes.

They also tend to need market intelligence.

Targeted strategy

Most higher education institutions view internationalisation as an instrument to improve the overall quality of education at their institution. Results of the EAIE Barometer 2014 indicate that objectives such as attracting international students, improving the international reputation and ranking position of the institution, and financial benefits are also frequent motivators for institutions to internationalise.

The researchers concluded that internationalisation has a distinctive place within higher education institutions’ strategies, with a clear distribution of internationalisation responsibilities duly extended to all echelons of a higher education institution’s hierarchy.

“Consequently, higher education institutions that strive to catch up with institutions leading in internationalisation would first and foremost need to develop a targeted strategy and, at the same time, invest in building the relevant skills and knowledge of staff engaged in strategy implementation,” the researchers said.

“Appropriate mechanisms for the implementation and monitoring of the strategy would have to be put in place.”