Internationalisation of HE – Successes and failures

In 1995, I edited the book Strategies for Internationalisation of Higher Education: A comparative study of Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States of America, published by the European Association for International Education in cooperation with the Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Association of International Education Administrators.

Building on previous more national and institutional studies, mainly from the United States, it was the first comparative and conceptual study of strategies for the internationalisation of higher education. It included a chapter on the historical and conceptual perspectives of internationalisation by Jane Knight and myself.

Since then, the world, higher education and its internationalisation have seen many developments and phases. Myths, misconceptions, a stronger focus on internationalisation of the curriculum and at home, cross-border delivery of education, virtual exchange and collaborative online international learning are some of the many trends that have emerged over the past decades.

Also, internationalisation has moved from being a primarily Western concept to a global phenomenon, something Elspeth Jones and I have referred to as the globalisation of internationalisation.

Critical thinking about internationalisation of higher education is on the rise. The current global political climate of increased nationalism, combined with a growing concern about the elitism and lack of inclusiveness of internationalisation in practice, have contributed to a heightened critique of internationalisation.

This critique has been described by Uwe Brandenburg and myself in our 2011 essay “The end of internationalization”. In addition, a web of myths and misconceptions about internationalisation was described by Jane Knight and myself seven years ago.

Does internationalisation still matter?

In an introductory article for a special issue of Wiley’s Higher Education Quarterly 2018, Ka Ho Mok from Lingnan University, Hong Kong, asks himself the question, “Does internationalisation of higher education still matter?”.

He and the articles in the special issue on transnationalisation of higher education and student/faculty mobility in Asia, “critically examine how the growing popularity of transnationalising and internationalising higher education has affected student learning, graduate employment, university governance and public diplomacy”, with a focus on the question of who wins and who loses in the process.

And Creso Sá, director of the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education from the University of Toronto, wrote an essay in University Affairs in early August entitled “The wide gap between rhetoric and reality regarding international education”, in which he addresses the fact that in the field of international education the discourse has “an implicit overarching assumption that it is a force for goodness”.

He calls for a shift in mindset and debate. Although Ka Ho Mok is making his comments in the context of Asia and Creso Sá about Canada, their comments are worth a more global, conceptual debate.

Where are we going?

In 2020 I intend to end my regular contributions of approximately 10 blogs a year to University World News. I have been a regular contributor since 2011. In the coming 16 months, until the end of 2019, I join up with readers and contributors to University World News to reflect on internationalisation in higher education over the past 25 years, on what went well and what went wrong?

This reflection starts at the end of September with the publication in University World News of an essay by Jane Knight and me on "Internationalisation of higher education: Where have we come from and where are we going?".

This essay also will be published in International Higher Education, the journal of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College in the US, which I direct and which is a partner of University World News.

Call for essays

It is my intention to co-author a new essay addressing aspects of what went well and what went wrong in internationalisation, with a colleague every six weeks until 2020.

For instance, with Elspeth Jones I intend to discuss whether internationalisation has really become globalised. With Betty Leask I plan to discuss the success and failure of internationalisation of the curriculum (building on the interesting recent contribution to University World News by Craig Whitsed, Wendy Green and Carla Camargo Cassol on that topic).

With Jos Beelen I will question whether internationalisation has come home already. With Rahul Choudaha I propose discussing the sustainability of international student mobility.

With Philip Altbach I look forward to debating the current and future role of languages and the dominance of English in higher education. With Fiona Hunter I will ask whether internationalisation is indeed a change agent in higher education.

With Laura Rumbley I propose to reflect on the role of associations like the European Association for International Education and NAFSA: Association of International Educators in internationalisation. Another suggestion is to re-evaluate with Uwe Brandenburg our provocative essay on the end of internationalisation.

All of this would be with a focus on what went well and what went wrong in the past 25 years, with recommendations for the future of internationalisation.

But, most importantly, I invite readers and contributors to University World News to send me their essays on this same theme of what went well and what went wrong in internationalisation of higher education over the past 25 years. You can send the essays, of between 800 and 1,200 words, to me via email:

I will select one essay to be published by University World News between each of my blogs. At the end of 2019, I will bring all these essays together in a book with a reflective introduction, including possibly some of the essays that did not make it into University World News but which I considered to be of relevance.

I look forward to your contributions.

Hans de Wit is director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, United States. Email: