Internationalisation in a polarised and volatile world

The world has changed greatly in the 10 years since the first edition of the Handbook of International Higher Education was published in 2012. The second edition* sees the world in the grip of a global health pandemic that is highlighting persistent inequalities in the world as it wreaks havoc, destruction and disruption.

As Francisco Marmolejo notes in his foreword: “The world finds itself in a highly polarised and volatile environment, plagued by misinformation in social media and faced with confronting visions of internationalism against nationalism. At a time when many question the value and benefits of a global dimension of education, it is necessary to revisit our rationale and assumptions about international education and to further study and understand its impact.”

Cornel West, the American philosopher, political activist and social critic, once said “You can’t move forward until you look back”.

This second edition of the Handbook, written as the pandemic unfolded, provides a comprehensive global overview of existing and emerging themes in international higher education. It looks back on the past and moves the discussion of key themes and activities in international higher education forward.

With the pandemic sweeping through the world, the over 125 authors from all over the world revised and updated their contributions, as they lived through one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of international higher education.

The content is dynamic and highly relevant to those seeking to ensure that international higher education remains relevant in, and contributes positively to, the post-pandemic world.

Looking back

Looking back, we must recognise that nearly 30 years ago, in 1992, in Bridges to the Future, a book edited by Charles Klasek for the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA), Maurice Harari provided a vision for an international higher education institution that included a “positive attitude toward understanding better other cultures and societies … a genuine desire to understand the major issues confronting the human and ecological survival of planet earth” and the ability to “cooperate across national and cultural boundaries in seeking solutions to world problems”.

This is exactly the sort of institution the world needs now in order to deal with current major threats and to prepare for future challenges.

In the intervening period between the 1992 book and the 2012 first edition of the Handbook, international higher education evolved to become a global phenomenon.

In the 2012 Handbook many important questions were posed about the impact of international education in different parts of the world.

Some of these questions are still relevant today and new questions have emerged: How can international education contribute to the process of recovery across the world? How can it contribute to healing the rifts that have emerged within and between nations in the last decade, reduce inequality between the Global North and Global South and support the development of a healthier global environment?

If the next decades lead to increasing nationalism and protectionist politics, can international higher education reduce rather than increase inequality? How might it prepare students to engage globally in addressing world problems?

These and other topics are addressed in the 2021 version of the Handbook, which includes many substantive updates to the 2012 content, as well as some completely new chapters.

The Handbook

The Handbook comprises four sections and a total of 25 chapters. The first section includes five chapters addressing national, regional and international frameworks and contexts.

It begins with a chapter discussing international trends and issues in higher education, followed by a much expanded and more comprehensive chapter on the history of international higher education inclusive of more diverse perspectives than those presented in the 2012 edition.

This section also includes a revised chapter on definitions and two completely new chapters, one on regional approaches and another on national policies.

The second section presents six chapters on key aspects of internationalisation at the strategic level. This includes updated chapters on leadership, institutional strategies and outcomes assessment, as well as new chapters on resources and financing, risk management and institutional linkages and partnerships.

The third section describes the core functions of internationalisation.

It includes revised chapters on intercultural competence development and internationalisation of the curriculum, teaching and learning and six new chapters on the following: virtual exchange, internationalisation and the work of student affairs professionals, engaging students in internationalisation, supporting staff and faculty and internationalising research.

Finally, there is a chapter on serving communities through internationalisation.

The last section includes five chapters on transnational activities which are wide-ranging and do not privilege one activity over another. There are chapters on mobility; recruitment; joint, double and consecutive degree programmes; credit mobility; and international joint universities.

This broad scope of activities reflects the strong view of the editorial team that it is time to move away from seeing mobility as the core focus or dimension of the internationalisation strategy of institutions of higher education.

Key themes and questions for the future

The concluding chapter brings in new and diverse voices to present their views on possible futures for international higher education.

Specifically, topics consider how a future agenda might deal not only with new issues resulting from the disruption caused by the pandemic but also with the many unresolved and compounding issues of the past, such as endemic racism, poverty, food insecurity, social injustice and climate change – all of which the global community must address to ensure that we do all we can to create a more equitable, sustainable world.

For this chapter we asked a group of 21 rising scholars and practitioners in international higher education from around the world about how they view future agendas. We present their statements in thematic form. In summary, all see a broader, more inclusive and comprehensive approach to internationalisation as essential.

Seven themes emerged from their independent contributions. These were the importance of:

• Greater inclusivity and equity in international higher education;

• The decolonisation of internationalisation;

• Internationalisation for society;

• Understanding forced internationalisation and what that implies for individuals such as refugees, including both displaced students and scholars;

• Internationalisation of the curriculum, teaching and learning at home;

• Digital internationalisation (virtual exchange and collaborative online international learning); and

• The affordability of internationalisation.

For us as editors, the perspectives of these emerging scholars highlight a number of key questions that international educators and leaders will need to address in the years to come:

• Who is engaged in internationalisation, within and beyond institutions? Who is being privileged and who is being left out?

• What might equitable and inclusive internationalisation look like? And what types of leadership are needed to achieve it?

• How can internationalisation be deployed as a tool of decolonisation?

• How can internationalisation better prepare all graduates and society to face future global challenges, including environmental crises and the decline of systems and institutions?

• What systemic, policy and operational changes need to be made, for example, to internationalisation practices and policies, power structures, teaching methods, tuition policies and other aspects of internationalisation to address inequities in society?

• How can internationalisation efforts be strengthened in order to make a more meaningful contribution to society?

• What do re-imagined mobility and blended mobility models look like moving forward?

• How might internationalisation at home and internationalisation abroad work together?

• How might the digital transformation of higher education lead to new approaches in internationalisation?

• What would a more holistic approach to internationalisation look like, one that includes students’ well-being, support and meaningful mutual engagement with communities?

These are important questions requiring scholarly exploration by both practitioners and researchers as we move into the next decade of international higher education.

In 600 pages this second edition of the Handbook includes extensive and diverse perspectives and insights, with contributions from all over the world which provide the foundation for looking back and looking forward to the internationalisation of higher education.

It ends on a positive note, recognising that the international education community of scholars and practitioners are agents of change, individually and collectively, and that as the world changes, so too must international education, learning from the past while looking forward to the future.

Darla K Deardorff is executive director of the Association for International Education Administrators (AIEA, United States). E-mail: Hans de Wit is professor emeritus and distinguished fellow, Center for International Higher Education, Boston College (US/the Netherlands). E-mail: Betty Leask is professor emerita in the internationalisation of higher education at La Trobe University (Australia) and chief editor of the Journal of Studies in International Education. E-mail: Harvey Charles is professor of international education at the State University of New York at Albany (USA). E-mail:

*Darla Deardorff, Hans de Wit, Betty Leask and Harvey Charles (Eds). (2021). Handbook on International Higher Education, second edition is published by Stylus Publishing, Sterling, Virginia, and by AIEA and is available in print and as an e-book. The first edition was published by Sage for the AIEA.

Note: Stylus and AIEA will launch a webinar series on the handbook, starting on Wednesday 26 January at 1pm ET. Register here. The AIEA administrators will officially launch the handbook during the 2022 AIEA Annual Conference on 20-23 February in New Orleans, US.