Future of outward higher education internationalisation

In a recent book, I define internationalisation as the process of integrating a higher education institution and its key stakeholders (faculty and its students) into the emerging global knowledge economy.

This definition captures both the inward and outward aspects of internationalisation. It is broader than the standard, inward definition that calls for the injection of an international dimension into the existing teaching, research and service functions of a university.

Outward internationalisation can take different forms according to how universities view the process of knowledge origination and dissemination around the world. I identify three alternative views of this process: the knowledge transfer view, the experiential view and the learning view.

The knowledge transfer view

According to the knowledge transfer view, the level and speed of change in economic and technological development differ widely across countries, with developing nations constantly catching up with the developed world as advances in technology and processes trickle down from developed to developing countries.

Knowledge in this case originates in research centres and universities located in developed countries and is transmitted to developing countries by higher education institutions whose international mission is to teach the world the knowledge that these institutions have generated or acquired at home.

An outward international mission that calls for the transmission of knowledge from the home institution to students located in lesser developed regions of the world is often accomplished through the opening of branch campuses abroad that are fully controlled and managed by the home institution.

Curricula and degrees are developed in the home campus and delivered in the branches to local students who apply for admission to the local campus, not the home one.

In general, admission to the branch campus does not allow students to switch permanently to the home campus but they can go there to attend some classes over a limited period of time. Faculty members teaching in the branch campus are either flown in from the home institution for a period of time or recruited locally with a local contract that does not allow them to move permanently to the home institution.

The major limitation of this form of outward internationalisation is that the home institution does not fully benefit from its presence abroad in order to deepen its internationalisation at home because activities on the branch campuses are focused on the provision of programmes developed on the home campus for delivery to local students with little mobility between the two locations.

The experiential view

According to the experiential view, technological and economic development differs across countries because of societal and cultural differences, not because of differences in the speed at which countries develop.

In this case, countries with similar levels of economic and technological progress may have developed different organisational processes and adopted different ways to use and implement advances in technology.

Students and faculty should be exposed to these alternative processes and methods in order to increase their awareness of these differences and enrich their knowledge. In this context, the international mission of a higher education institution is to offer its students and faculty the opportunity to experience the world.

This mission is best accomplished by sending students for a semester or more to a foreign university with which the home institution has established a study abroad programme. A similar goal is achieved with faculty members by encouraging them to spend a sabbatical year abroad.

These initiatives allow a limited number of students and faculty to experience the world and broaden their horizons as individuals, but are not effective vehicles to internationalise the home campus.

The learning view

Consider now the view according to which there are different models of economic and technological development across regions of the world, not just differences in the speed and level of development across countries (the knowledge transfer view) or societal and cultural differences between countries that have adopted similar approaches to development (the experiential view).

In this case, original knowledge is generated throughout the world – that is, knowledge ‘nuggets’ can be found in multiple locations around the globe. And these locally generated nuggets should be ‘mined’ in their different locations and ‘moulded’ together to create new, breakthrough ideas and innovations.

In this context, the international mission of a higher education institution is to learn from the world, not just to teach the world or experience it.

This view of internationalisation is best served by a global institution that consists of an integrated and interconnected network of complementary campuses operating in a symbiotic fashion to the mutual benefit of the entire system.

Modular programmes are delivered across the network with a global curriculum that is designed to take advantage of the specificities of each location and the knowledge that is created in these locations. Students are centrally admitted to the network, not to a particular campus, and are allowed to move freely across the network’s locations.

Faculty members are recruited internationally and contractually employed by the global institution, not by a particular campus. They are thus affiliated with the institution irrespective of their actual posting in the network and can move across campuses to fulfil their teaching responsibilities and do their research. They are evaluated and promoted according to institutional standards, not campus-specific criteria.

There are a few higher education institutions that have adopted this model, but the world is still waiting for the full development of a global knowledge and learning network.

Gabriel Hawawini is a professor and former dean at INSEAD and author of The Internationalization of Higher Education and Business Schools: A critical review (Springer 2016).