More Action, Not Just Talk, on Internationalization

The following is a guest post by John K. Hudzik, former vice president for global and strategic projects at Michigan State University and former president of Nafsa: Association of International Educators.

Higher-education internationalization is a hot topic. In the past year a robust discussion about the issues and challenges surrounding the international efforts of higher education has developed. I contributed an essay to these discussions titled, “Comprehensive Internationalization: From Concept to Action,” and have spoken about internationalization over the last eight months at conferences across five continents. With insightful commentaries by other academics, including Uwe Brandenburg, Jane Knight, Elspeth Jones, Francisco Marmolejo, and Hans de Wit, thinking about internationalization has been enriched.

All this is well and good. Ideas need to guide action, but as the new year begins, I hope we see more work by higher education to truly go global. With that in mind, I wanted to layout some observations arising in part from my recent travels and conversations and to outline key elements for how universities can move forward.

For much of higher education, internationalization is undergoing a paradigm shift in scale and scope, rather than a fundamental shift in the basic concept. So, perhaps it isn’t that internationalization has lost its way or having an identify crisis, but rather is better understanding the road being travelled and the motivations for doing so.

The activity of higher education is increasingly crossing borders with the flow of ideas, students, scholars, and partnerships–both instructional and research.  Preparing graduates for a global labor market and economy and helping communities and businesses negotiate a global landscape has increased saliency.  We are learning that prosperity at home is heavily dependent on global “co-prosperities”—not just with matters of markets and economies, but with, for example, health, safe and sustainable food supply, peace and security, and justice.  The social responsibilities of higher education have rising global dimensions.  Internationalization is not an end, but rather a means to meet these challenges and opportunities. It is not local versus global in how higher education responds but a blending of the two in “local to global.”

Comprehensive internationalization describes behaviors and outcomes relevant for internationalization in a 21st century context. To paraphrase: it is commitment and action to integrate international, global, and comparative content and perspective throughout the teaching, research, and service missions of higher education to achieve core learning and discovery outcomes. Similar concepts are being discussed outside the United States with different terms—“deep internationalization” in Australia and “mainstream internationalization” in Europe.

Although there are regional differences, all appear to share aspects of certain tenets: providing access to international content and perspective to all students, not just a minority; student mobility as a component of internationalization, not a synonym for it; moving internationalization beyond teaching and learning to include research and service missions; expanding the number of faculty and staff members engaged in international efforts; and as Mr. Brandenberg and Mr. de Wit have put it: “Internationalization can no longer be seen as a fragmented list of activities.”

So, how to make these ideas a reality?

For decades, colleges and universities in the United States have internationalized through faculty and student exchanges, research collaborations, and internationally focused coursework. At most institutions, these efforts touched the few, not the many. That must change if institutions are to prepare students for the global workforce and themselves be prepared to help solve the big problems of the 21st century.

Treating internationalization as yet another “add on” responsibility can neither be afforded, nor prevent its eventual marginalization in the competition for scarce resources.  Sustainability requires its integration into the core missions and involving the campus widely. Lou Anna Simon, president of Michigan State University, champions a reaffirmation of traditional land-grant and public university values of “quality, inclusiveness, and connectivity” for a global environment—or what she refers to as a transition from land-grant to world-grant in orientation and commitment, and integration of the local and the global.

In “Comprehensive Internationalization,” I outlined a number of prerequisites, barriers to, and actions for success. The list is long, and all are important issues, but my experience as dean of international programs and later vice president at Michigan State suggests that a few deserve emphasis.

Institutional Culture. Comprehensive internationalization needs a culture that defines institutional missions and values in global terms–not just in local or national terms. Needed is a broadly shared culture throughout the institution of a commitment to internationalization and its outcomes.

Define Objectives and Measure Success. The currency of higher education is defined by intellectual objectives. The connection of international engagement to measurable outcomes for students and society–in learning, research, problem solving, and capacity building–is crucial to its sustainability.

Contributors. While humanities, languages, and social and behavioral sciences remain core elements in international education, professional disciplines take on renewed importance. Problems and opportunities in, for example, public health, environment, food supply, and economies now easily jump boundaries. All disciplines and professions are better informed by global perspective, shaped by it, and capable of contributing globally.

Leadership for Action. Clear and frequent messaging from the president and provost are important. The role of academic deans is critical for prompting action in academic programs. Faculty intellectual leadership and commitment is essential for progress.  As not everything can be done at once, an important role of leadership is to set priorities for action and hold accountable those who should be contributing?

Define and Reward What Counts. What is counted counts. Integration of international dimensions into curricula signals what counts for students. Including international accomplishments into promotion, compensation, and tenure criteria signals what counts for faculty. The allocation of resources to internationalization signals institutional commitment.

Recruit and Employ for Internationalization. Institutional capacity is enhanced by recruiting students who have an interest in international learning and by hiring administrators, faculty, and staff members with international backgrounds, experience, or interests.

In conclusion, higher-education internationalization is a road without end, an aspiration unfolding in a continuously changing world. The core concepts remain stable but how they will be implemented across regions and institutions will differ. There are several of us now beginning to focus on action for internationalization.

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