In 2018, the International Association of Universities (IAU) conducted a global survey of 907 higher education institutions from 126 countries, identifying the importance of internationalization to academic leadership. The survey revealed that around 83% of respondents rated internationalization as highly important, namely in Africa and the Middle East.
At the time when many countries, for political reasons, are becoming more nationalist, protectionist and isolationist, international relations couldn’t be more important. Through internationalization, academics from many different countries can cooperate on research projects, advancing every field together instead of redundantly conducting the same research. It is the future of education.
Through internationalization, universities can also exchange academic staff and students, sharing experiences as well as the latest trends in curriculum and teaching methodologies. No university can be world ranked without internationalization efforts.
Just recently, the American Higher Education Alliance (AHEA) and the Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration (CONAHEC) announced their partnership to facilitate opportunities for members of both organizations to engage and collaborate in curriculum co-development and programmatic internationalization through virtual exchange via AHEA’s InspirED™ platform.
“The partnership between CONAHEC and AHEA will help faculty and students develop their intercultural competencies and institutions to strengthen their partnerships with peers abroad,” said Sean Manley-Casimir, executive director of CONAHEC. “Through this symbiotic relationship, our member institutions will be able to work collaboratively with their peers in different countries to internationalize their curricula and to expose their students to new perspectives.”
Various stakeholders can benefit from the internationalization of higher education, including international and domestic students, higher education institutions (HEIs), companies, home and host countries.
Studying abroad is a way for students to gain international experience and to develop both personally as well as professionally, for instance, by getting to know different cultures, improving language skills and developing a more cosmopolitan identity. In addition, it can be a strategy to improve one’s career prospects, especially if the required knowledge and skills cannot be obtained in the student’s home country. International classrooms lead to improved learning outcomes, foster intercultural skills and create international networks preparing both international and domestic students for living and working in a globalized world.
Higher Education Institutions
Higher education institutions can benefit from the internationalization of higher education both financially and academically. In the context of declining financial contributions of governments, international students are an additional funding opportunity. Moreover, internationalization can improve HEI’s reputation and the quality of education programs because of increased international competition for the best students and academics. In addition, attracting international students is vital for many HEIs to survive, especially in countries where the population of young adults is expected to decline drastically in the coming decades.
Host countries can benefit from the internationalization of higher education economically. In the short term, international students bring additional revenue through general living expenses. In the long term, international students can add to the domestic pool of highly skilled workers and thereby help strengthen the domestic knowledge economy. This is especially important for countries that experience demographic change, negative population developments and growing skills shortages. International students who do not remain living in the host countries can become ambassadors for HEIs and the industry of the country in which they studied which can contribute to international cooperation and trade.
In the period 2010–2020, not only has the number of international students doubled to 5 million, but there’s also been an increase in franchise operations, articulation programs, branch campuses, and online delivery of higher education. There is fierce competition for talented international students and scholars, and immigration policies have shifted from low-skill to high-skill immigration. National excellence programs have increased differentiation in higher education with more attention for a small number of international world-class universities and national flagship institutions that compete for these talents, for positions in the global rankings, for access to high impact journals, and for funding, at the cost of other institutions.
The internationalization of higher education requires a significant shift in the operation of higher education systems, as well as of individual higher education institutions. Operating in a most complex world, policy makers at the national level of higher education, as well as leaders of universities and other higher education institutions have to handle concurrently contrasting trends, and define their missions and operational strategies accordingly. The increased focus on international collaborative ventures, the growing link between internationalization, research and employability require the rethinking of the roles and responsibilities of higher education institutions within national borders and beyond.