What is internationalisation? In discussing it we need to balance the different concepts of international mobility and stay-at-home internationalisation as well as competing conservative and liberal forces.
Over the past 25 years the efforts of scholars and organisations, as well as advocacy by international educators, have contributed to the clarification of the concept, design and delivery of internationalisation in higher education, as well as to the realisation by higher education institutions, and governments, that the international sectors of their campuses are a valuable asset to their prestige, influence and potential economic stability.
The concept of internationalisation
Internationalisation struggled with its definitions and scope into the early 1990s. From Canada, Jane Knight argued in the 1990s and in a more refined article in 2003 articulated what is now the longest standing and most cited definition of internationalisation. This definition emphasised that internationalisation is a process.
Although this was a significant accomplishment, the scope of internationalisation was formed by institutional cultures that promoted some and inhibited other international dimensions on campus. Not being able to articulate a comprehensive understanding of the value of internationalisation delayed efforts by international educators to place internationalisation at the table of decision-makers.
In many institutions, international dimensions of what they offered were split up among divisions overseeing academic and student affairs, continuing education and enrolment. There was no one voice to represent all their international leanings and their separate voices were not strong enough to garner support for their efforts.
For some institutions, dividing the international pie meant keeping at bay additional fiefdoms among their administrative units. For other institutions, coordination between the units became a high value proposition that involved increasing income from study abroad, recruiting students from abroad and improving funding for international academic research.
In all, the process defining and articulating internationalisation allowed higher education a more expansive path towards the value, design and delivery of major internationalisation components: increasing study abroad and recruiting students from abroad for study, research and teaching.
Later refinements of the definition recognised the increasing and precise attention needed for internationalisation. In these refinements, internationalisation should be a “purposeful, conscious effort” (NAFSA, 2008), “comprehensive” (Hudzik, 2011) and “an intentional process” (European Parliament, 2015). These changes aimed to strengthen the value and clarity of the international dimensions in higher education.
The design of internationalisation
Concern about the international dimensions of higher education began to change in the early 1990s. Higher education institutions are organisations that seek to maintain their organisational viability and to grow in prestige, influence and economic stability.
Yet, within this context conservatives viewed higher education as the training ground for a liberal elite. It was here that conservative and neoliberal sensitivities among some administrators and academics fostered a different focus and process for education in general, and international education specifically. As a result, plans for internationalisation increasingly revolved around importing and exporting students.
Liberals, who believe in education for the public good, were quick to identify and focus on the intercultural and other competencies that widen the scope of individual and classroom learning. These competencies were identified and models were developed for curricular change. They were incorporated into courses and infused curricular change and publications written to aid faculty development.
Most recently, in a parallel focus, these elements paved the way for equalising the gains delivered by student mobility. There was a recognition that some students cannot travel abroad. Rather than create an elite of mobile students, ‘internationalisation at home’ was conceptualised and is being articulated to bring internationalisation to those remaining who cannot travel abroad.
In the United States, but also elsewhere, internationalisation reinforced neoliberal thinking by seeking to deliver a competitive advantage, and in professional schools in particular, provided graduates who were able to enhance the global needs of American businesses. All this by focusing on increasing study abroad and capturing more mobile students from abroad.
On the other hand, internationalisation was used by social and humanistic areas of study to focus on student competencies that could prepare them for their role in international interactions at home and in the global marketplace.
The delivery of internationalisation
Beginning in the late 1980s and continuing through today, there emerged scholars, practitioners and higher education institutions from the US, Australia, Canada and Europe, as well as other nations, who began to more clearly define the methods needed to advance concepts associated with internationalisation. These methods included proposed faculty development and curricular change.
These efforts provided the arguments bolstered by data and conceptualisations that led some higher education institutions to consolidate institutional units into various combinations under a senior international officer, as befitted the institutional culture and administration.
Not all institutions took this route but, after 9/11 and the resultant threat of a reduction in international mobility to the US and other main receiving countries, international practitioners were emboldened to advocate for attention to the international sector. This led institutions to articulate internationalisation as a mission of the institution.
At the same time, some practitioners were gaining their PhDs, started to conduct research and to publish. Also, professional development programmes were developed and attempts made to develop masters and certificate programmes addressing international education. Their legitimacy began to embed international education within higher education.
Advancement of internationalisation was abetted by an increase of new journals related to international education between 1990 and 2002. Nearly all were widely disseminated or increasingly available online as search engines began to perfect their craft and as more and more data was put on websites on the internet.
Three of these publications are peer reviewed; the Journal of Studies in International Education (JSIE, founded in 1997), the International Journal of Multicultural Education (1999), and the Journal of Research in International Education (2002).
The JSIE has become the pre-eminent journal in the field. Overall, there has been an increase in books, reports, journals, blogs, newsletters and social media advocacy. These publications and media have provided an impetus for international educators to conduct and disseminate data-driven research, cite best practice and develop robust arguments for internationalisation.
The role of higher education
The increased scholarship, development of the academic credentials of international education leaders in academic and non-academic institutional roles and the articulation of a set of definitions and principles of internationalisation have coexisted with the neoliberal market-driven approach to higher education.
While most students are seeking mobility up the social/economic ladder, or at least maintenance of the level their parents gained, they must contend with choosing a course of study that allows them a good life.
Thus, over the past 25 years, internationalisation has generated – through research, study, publication and advocacy – notions that appeal to both conservatives and liberals.
There is little space between the competencies of international education, intercultural exchange and the avowed skills and competencies desired by employers. Many employers today seek graduates who can think, interact in ways that ease the training time for employers. Doing internships, especially international internships, provides marketable skills for graduates.
Still, higher education is more than just about international and market-driven competencies. Internationalisation now needs to articulate ways to help higher education find a balance between mobility and stay-at-home concepts, as well as the competing views of conservative and liberal thinking about higher education.