How can universities promote internationalization?
Feb 19, 2017 By G. John Cole
Students and staff, their institutions and the regions in which they are found, all benefit from the practical implementation of an international perspective on postsecondary education.
Those universities that work proactively in developing and sustaining international recruitment, networks, and strategies can expect their students to be more highly valued by multinational employers, who value a broadness of experience and intercultural awareness. Along with the teaching, research, and service staff, they will enjoy the opportunity to connect with talented students and faculty from peer universities around the world, and to make a contribution that is likely to be recognized on an international scale. This is what we call Internationalization: how can we make it work in today's market?
One thing's for sure: teaching in English is a good start, but it no longer makes American institutions special. Across Europe and Asia, postsecondary institutions are keen to share in this culture of internationalized education and are already catering for local and overseas students. The UK, too, remains a prestigious destination for those who recognize the value of an English-language degree; education hubs such as Singapore and Malaysia, which can boast English as an official or semi-official national language, are currently receiving substantial investment, and will be attractive prospects for Asian learners who might otherwise consider studying in the West.
Smart educators will resist getting overly caught up in the ebb and flow of today's market, however. Internationalization as a strategy for economic sustainability is neither a short-term nor an exclusive solution, but should rather form part of a culture of long-term investment that is as much about people and ideas as it is about revenue and filling classrooms.
That means opening up to partnerships and collaborations with international peers, investing in scholarships and student mobility, and nurturing less quantifiable values – excellence, innovation – as well as the figures that make it all function. While universities cannot and should not cast market concerns aside, all-out business strategies are neither culturally desirable nor economically sustainable in the higher education sector. Flexibility, tolerance, and curiosity have as big a part to play when it comes to forging robust international networks.
Internationalization strategists who work in close collaboration with teaching and research staff to identify and develop opportunities are likely to reap the rewards of an improving international profile that will only strengthen over time. Academia is a long game, and connections made with promising early-career graduates and faculty will flourish over the years.
There is no substitute for personal interaction and shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration, so international exchange programs that involve students and faculty are likely to foster vibrant opportunities for ongoing cooperation and recruitment. The human factor is central as students, researchers and faculty alike inspire and lead each other through collective problem-solving, dialogue, and mentorship. These ideals require particular attention in the case of international initiatives, for which time, distance, and cultural issues become a greater (if more exciting) challenge.
It will be wise, then, to proceed with a dual-pronged approach that both capitalizes on an institution's academic strengths and unique selling points while opening up opportunities for collaboration and for the diversification of delivery methods. While developing a portfolio of programs that demonstrate and expand on an institution's identity, that institution will be willing to strengthen that identity through an improved international context as a unique hub in a thriving network.
On campus, this profile should be embodied at a personal level. Schools should facilitate positive curricular and extra-curricular interaction, and seek feedback from those international students who decline a place at the institution as well as those who attend.
Students and graduates who seek international positions desire and benefit from a multicultural experience that more localized institutions cannot offer. For this reason, as much as those previously highlighted, universities that aspire to internationalization will walk the walk as much as they talk the talk. Multiculturalism will be a keyword not just in the registry, but in the classroom, lab, support services, and online. Outreach programs, conferences, and publications will extol the virtues of diversity, collaboration, and cooperation. When institutions can demonstrate that they are global in thought, culture, and ambition, the international talent they seek will find its way to their doors.