Internationalisation should be for all – Landmark study

Internationalisation is not a goal in itself, but a means to enhance quality, and it should not focus solely on economic rationales, according to a heavyweight report on internationalisation commissioned by the European Parliament.

The ‘abroad’ (mobility) needs to become an integral part of the internationalised curriculum to ensure internationalisation for all, not only the mobile minority, the study says.

Most national strategies, including in Europe, are still mostly focused on mobility, short-term or long-term economic gains, recruitment or training of talented scholars and international reputation and visibility, the study says.

Greater efforts are needed to incorporate these approaches into more comprehensive strategies in which internationalisation of the curriculum and learning outcomes receive more attention.

Therefore it argues that the definition of internationalisation should be revised to recognise it as the ”intentional process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education, in order to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff, and to make a meaningful contribution to society”.

More action is required at European, national and in particular institutional level for internationalisation for all to be realised, the study concludes.

The study

The study, ‘Internationalisation of Higher Education’, was requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education and is written by four experts on internationalisation: Hans de Wit and Fiona Hunter of the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation; Laura Howard of the European Association for International Education; and Eva Egron-Polak of the International Association of Universities.

The study is based on two surveys, an analysis of the role of digital learning, 10 national reports from Europe and seven from outside Europe and a Delphi method process among experts in international higher education. As such it represents one of the most significant reports to emerge on internationalisation.

It provides an overview of the main global and European trends and related strategies at European, national and institutional level and scrutinises the internationalisation strategies in higher education.

The study recognises that “the importance of the role of the European Union and the Bologna Process in the development of the internationalisation of higher education in Europe, but also around the globe, is undeniable and has to be built on further”. However, while it is an important model, it is not the only one and Europe has to be willing to also learn from elsewhere.

The study therefore includes country reports from seven countries outside Europe – Australia, Canada, Colombia, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa and the USA – as well as 10 countries in Europe – Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain and the UK.

The study highlights that there is increased competition from emerging economics and developing countries but also opportunities for collaboration as they become stronger actors in higher education.

There is also a shift from recruitment of international students for short-term economic gain to recruitment of talented international students and scholars, in particular in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – fields, to meet the needs of academia and industry.


Funding of higher education, tuition fees and scholarship schemes are diverse and result in different strategies, but also generate different obstacles for mobility and cooperation. The study advocates removing these obstacles.

It recognises joint degrees as important for the future of internationalisation but that many barriers still have to be overcome, which will take time.

It also recognises the need for more higher education and industry collaboration in the context of mobility of students and staff, building on the increased attention to work placements in the Erasmus+ programme.

There is now better understanding of the crucial role that academics play in the internationalisation of education and research and they need to be given additional support, the study says.

Despite progress made in the Bologna Process for further transparency there are still substantial differences between higher education systems, procedures and funding between countries in Europe, which affects how cooperation can be increased.

In particular there are still “substantial imbalances” in credit and degree mobility, as well as staff mobility, between European countries, especially in Central and Eastern Europe where falling enrolment could lead to an “increased higher education divide” in the region. A key recommendation is that this imbalance should be addressed.

The study says Europe is still playing catch-up in the digital revolution but is well-placed to be in the vanguard of new thinking on how the digital revolution can improve both quality and access to higher education.

“It is thus necessary to give attention to digital and blended learning as instruments to complement the internationalisation of higher education, not only through MOOCS [massive open online courses] but also through virtual exchange and collaborative online learning,” the study says. “Innovative models” of such learning should be developed, it says.

The study advocates recognising the growing popularity of work placements by building options to combine them with language and cultural skills training and study abroad.

It also stresses that more attention should be paid to the importance of “internationalisation at home”, integrating international and intercultural learning outcomes into the curriculum for all students.

The future is potentially bright

The authors say the future of internationalisation of higher education in Europe looks potentially bright, but positive development and impact will only take place if the various stakeholders and participants maintain an open dialogue about rationales, benefits, means, opportunities and obstacles in the ongoing process of change.

“We cannot ignore the fact that the internationalisation of higher education is also being challenged by increasingly profound social, economic and cultural issues, such as the financial crisis, unfavourable demographic trends, immigration and ethnic and religious tensions.

“While these challenges represent a threat, they also raise our awareness of the importance of internationalisation of higher education in developing a meaningful response,” they say.