Globalization through a changing political climate

The arrival of International Education Week, following recent public statements on U.S. election results by NAFSA and AIEA, prompted me to dig through my collection of PDFs and bookmarks to re-examine what appears to be a highly relevant set of questions for campus internationalization.

How do the terms “international” and “global” apply to day-to-day operations of colleges and universities? From international admissions and recruitment, international internships, career services for international students or students pursuing international careers, international student advising, international strategic engagement, and of course study abroad (internationally), there is without-a-doubt a lot of international activity. But, are we, as practitioners, really and truly good at explaining to our leadership, faculty, students, and communities the details of who benefits, how and why?

First, some definitions.

In her 2008, Higher Education in Turmoil: The Changing World of Internationalization (table of contents and introduction here), published as part of the Global Perspectives on Higher Education Series (edited by Philip Altbach, co-founder of the Center for International Higher Education), Jane Knight offers some useful distinctions/definitions of the terms internationalization and globalization.

Globalization, she writes, is “the process that is increasing the flow of people, culture, ideas, values, knowledge, technology, and economy across borders, resulting in a more interconnected and interdependent world.” Internationalization for higher ed, on the other hand, should be seen as “not an end in itself but rather is a means to an end” … [expected to] “contribute to the quality and relevance of higher education in a more interconnected and interdependent world.”

Sounds great. Who benefits?

As a starting point, I turn to John Hudzik’s NAFSA’s Comprehensive Internationalization From Concept to Action (John has been, among other roles, VP of Global Engagement at Michigan State). His list of benefits from campus internationalization includes: expanding cross-cultural knowledge and understanding given the increased frequency and necessity of cross-cultural contacts and relations; strengthening a higher education institution’s stature; value added in teaching and research in a global system of higher education; enhancing national and global security; improving labor force and local economic competitiveness in a global marketplace; enhancing knowledge, skills, attributes; and careers for graduates to be effective citizens and workforce members.

Campus internationalization in action.

In order to implement these noble goals and to receive the abstract benefits, there needs to be pragmatic action across the campus.

Returning to Hudzik, he cites three action areas: campus internationalization, “where one focuses on getting the parts ‘at home’ aligned,” under which he includes: courses and curriculum, international students and their role as internationalization agents on campus, and institutional policies; international mobility, in-bound and out-bound movement of students and scholars;  and the growth of global higher education capacity, cross border inter-institutional collaborations and partnerships including those using technology (for example, MOOCs).

Another pair of researchers from University of California, Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE), Richard Edelstein and John Aubrey Douglass, have broken campus internationalization strategies into a related – but more nuanced – list of “modes” in their publication, The International Initiatives of Universities – A Taxonomy of Modes of Engagement and Institutional Logics, which is expertly summarized by Kris Olds here.

Are we really and truly certain about who benefits, how and why?

It is understandable, I believe, to question whether these “benefits” are entirety accurate. For example, in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere, some have recently argued that international mobility may lead to decreased security, and result in fewer jobs for local citizens and so on.

In the words of Kris Olds, “What are the reasons and methods universities have chosen to become more globally active; how might we assess success or failure? What are the actual outcomes for nation-states that invite partnerships, and often provide significant initial financial support, on the quality and output of their higher education systems, on their labor markets, on their long-term economic development plans?”

Or for those that want to go back even further, can we learn from history at all? Read Universities 2030: Learning from the Past to Anticipate the Future, a recent collection of essays edited by Adam Nelson, a leading scholar of the history of higher education. He reminds us that looking to campus internationalization in response to major historical-structural change is not new.

If we assume for a moment that a constructive response to the challenges and opportunities of globalization is indeed a priority given recent events, then those of us working with U.S. colleges and universities – particularly with titles including “international” – are well-placed to respond at this historic junction. And I think that to do so effectively, we need to use data-driven approaches to both continually assess and demonstrate outcomes.

Whatever happens next, at least from my perspective, there is no more important international and global dialogue going on right now, than on the campuses of U.S. colleges and universities. So let’s get going.


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