A new contribution to the debate on internationalisation

A new book which marks the 10th anniversary of the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation in Italy opens up opportunities for a meaningful conversation on the role of internationalisation of higher education as an intrinsic part of university practice and responsibility towards society.

The Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation (CHEI) at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

In the late 1990s, the university developed a strategy for comprehensive internationalisation, and as part of the redevelopment of its international strategy, the late Tony Adams, a key advisor in the early 2000s, proposed the development of a research and training centre for higher education internationalisation that would raise the university’s profile and assist in achieving comprehensive internationalisation within the institution.

CHEI’s genesis thus took place in an age of awakening of internationalisation and globalism in the 1990s.

During that period, higher education institutions around the world embraced internationalisation and globalism resulting in an unprecedented growth in student and faculty mobility programmes, partnerships with institutions in other countries and collaborative research and area study programmes.

Many universities increased staff positions to administer these expanded international programmes and appointed senior managers to lead campus internationalisation efforts.

The institution of CHEI was formally announced at the opening ceremony of the academic year in 2011. Embodying both a practitioner research focus and a transnational network model, CHEI soon established an innovative doctoral programme providing an opportunity for practitioners, principally in administrative positions, to achieve a doctorate specialising in internationalisation of higher education.

Fourteen doctoral students have since completed their PhD, and a further 14 are working on their research projects, supervised and mentored by an international network of scholars.

A contribution to the conversation

CHEI, in celebration of its 10th anniversary, contributes to the conversation on the future of internationalisation, with the recently published open access book Internationalisation in Higher Education: Responding to New Opportunities and Challenges edited by Fiona Hunter, Ravichandran Ammigan, Hans de Wit, Jeanine Gregersen-Hermans, Elspeth Jones and Amanda C Murphy.

It brings together 10 years of research from a global network of affiliated scholars, recent graduates and current PhD students, whose research is firmly rooted in professional practice.

Internationalisation and its role in higher education continue to be debated by politicians and governments, university leaders, staff and students. It is also increasingly a focus in research of higher education.

Across these different stakeholder groups, there are those who promote internationalisation as a driver of educational quality and upward social mobility, or as an enhancer of intercultural and global learning. Others see its benefits primarily in terms of reputational and financial or economic gain, attracting and retaining international talents to enhance national economic competitiveness and address local labour market shortages.

Increased contestation

On the other hand, internationalisation is also increasingly contested. Some consider it elitist, serving primarily privileged groups in society, while others see it as a threat to educational standards, to national languages, cultures and security, or as taking away opportunities from local students and graduates. As a result, these debates are framed as being either in favour or against internationalisation.

While it has always been considered a multifaceted and constantly evolving phenomenon, internationalisation now evokes a variety of contradictory emotional responses across ever-broadening stakeholder groups.

The good and bad news is that there are no easy answers to resolve these debates. What is considered ‘positive’ or ‘valuable’ in one context might not resonate in the same way in other contexts or from other perspectives.

It becomes increasingly evident that more balanced and nuanced understandings of internationalisation and its functions within higher education and societies in different settings are needed, and it is reassuring to witness a growing demand for evidence-based practice in higher education internationalisation. Correspondingly, increasing research into internationalisation across the world offers the opportunity to engage in a conversation that can move beyond established positions.

The CHEI book is one example of the development in the depth and breadth of research on internationalisation of higher education and addresses new and evolving trends and themes, such as the European University Initiatives or shifts in national approaches to internationalisation in the Netherlands and Japan.

It discusses the need for a closer engagement of higher education in society to respond to urgent emerging needs and challenges. It provides new insights into internationalisation of the curriculum at home and virtual online collaborative learning, on how to engage academics in these efforts and respond to their professional development needs.

It reflects on the student voice, their mobility experiences and international employability. It discusses student support services for study abroad and the inclusivity of internationalisation in contrast to deficit model thinking in an education abroad context.

A platform for dialogue

This book showcases how a global community of scholars and students working in collaboration can provide a platform for dialogue that enhances understanding of the multifaceted and ever-evolving phenomenon of higher education internationalisation. It thus opens up opportunities for a meaningful conversation on the role of internationalisation as an intrinsic part of university practice and responsibility towards society.

That said, the CHEI community also recognises that more work needs to be done to give greater space to emerging voices, and to promote further discussion on critical global challenges such as social justice, climate action, health and security.

We remain as committed as ever to nurturing a new generation of scholars from around the world who can help shape the future of the centre in addressing forthcoming challenges and identifying opportunities in higher education internationalisation. All are welcome to join the conversation.

Jeanine Gregersen-Hermans is a researcher-practitioner and former pro-vice chancellor international at Glasgow Caledonian University. She is connected to Zuyd University, a Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation (CHEI) graduate and academic board member. Fiona Hunter is associate director of CHEI, and an international consultant, researcher and trainer. Hans de Wit is distinguished fellow and emeritus professor in international higher education of the Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) at Boston College, USA, and founding director of CHEI.