Staff promotion not tied to internationalisation

Only 8% of United States higher education institutions have guidelines specifying international work or experience as a consideration for faculty promotion and tenure decisions, according to a study by the American Council on Education, or ACE.

The report also reveals that contrary to stated internationalisation goals – which consider student learning as a top priority – internationally focused teaching activities are the least commonly found criteria in tenure and promotion codes.

Research is the category in which the most international references appear, followed by service.

Robin Matross Helms, associate director for research at ACE’s Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement, said: "This suggests a disconnect between what institutions are hoping to accomplish through internationalisation and the message they are sending to faculty about what they can and should be contributing to the process."

She said for students to gain the skills for global competence, their faculty members have to be globally competent and able to infuse international perspectives and experiences into their curriculum.

However, while there is strong interest in incorporating globally focused criteria into tenure codes, few institutions are taking the step and there are ardent discussions on how to achieve this goal.

Entitled Policies to Promote a Globally Focused Faculty, Helms's research highlights the need to foster this focus early in faculty members’ careers to enable institutions to build a globally engaged professoriate from the ground upwards and set the stage for continued international activity and interest.

Those institutions committed to internationalisation as a key goal demonstrate the extent to which tenure policies and procedures are powerful mechanisms by which to incentivise and reward early-career faculty engagement in internationalisation.

Helms said that incorporating globally focused criteria into standards for promotion and tenure enabled junior faculty members the licence to bring this work to the top of their priorities list and ensured the investment into these activities did not affect their tenure prospects.

Guiding institutions

Following the study's outcome, ACE also analysed 91 publicly available tenure and promotion codes from 61 colleges and universities as a potential means by which to guide institutions considering implementing internationally focused tenure and promotion criteria.

Helms said ACE categorised the internationally focused references and criteria in the faculty work addressed – teaching, research, service, reputation and broader contributions to internationalisation. Research held the highest percentage of international references followed by service, while internationally focused teaching-related criteria were less common criteria among the tenure and promotion codes.

This was contrary to stated internationalisation goals that considered student learning a key priority.

Looking beyond the policies, ACE interviewed key contacts in the institutions represented in the sample to understand the "lived reality" of the process and its implementation in various contexts.

Helms said this enabled the organisation to provide advice for institutions considering internationally focused changes to their tenure codes.

ACE could also propose additional research topics including attention to policies and practices designed to engage the large contingent of non-tenure-track faculty and instructors in US higher education.

The research cited the Northern Kentucky University and Oregon State University among its examples. Northern Kentucky University's core values embrace inclusiveness, diversity and global awareness in its work, with its tenure policy commensurately addressing contributions to internationalisation across its faculty activities.

Internationalisation is defined as any activity advancing understanding of other cultures and-or international issues.

Correspondingly, Sabah Randhawa, Oregon State University provost and executive vice-president, said each campus unit has the flexibility to tailor job descriptions to specific needs and interests of faculty members. Internationalisation and global engagement are encouraged provided departments illustrate how these fit in with and contribute to the academic unit and institution.

Helms acknowledges the unique nature of each institution's tenure process, coupled with the difficulty of measuring success, which means there are unlikely to be clear-cut solutions across the board or a single method for internationalising tenure and promotion policies.

"It is critical for efforts to be tied to a set of well-thought-out, clearly defined goals – which in turn should be tied to the mission and priorities of the institution as a whole," she said.

Given the diversity of the US higher education system and the multitude of institution types and focus areas, internationalisation and its role in promotion and tenure decisions is put into operation in different ways across the system, she said.

Helms concluded the process was also not linear with starting points varying according to institutions and the activities depending on resources and expertise, student composition and the opportunities being presented.

"Internationalisation is an evolutionary process – there may be steps backwards, steps forward, and steps sideways along the way, but keeping sight of the institution's goals for internationalisation and maintaining the links between goals and activities will, over time, build momentum in the right direction," she said.