Original publication: July 2015
Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation (CHEI): Hans de Wit, Fiona Hunter
European Association for International Education (EAIE): Laura Howard
International Association of Universities (IAU): Eva Egron-Polak
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Internationalisation of higher education in Europe
 Internationalisation of Higher Education

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Internationalisation of Higher Education’ provides an overview of the main global and European trends and related strategies at European, national and institutional level, as well as the underlying gist of what internationalisation is and should be aiming for. The overall objective of this study was to scrutinise internationalisation strategies in higher education, with a particular focus on Europe.

Internationalisation of higher education (IoHE) is a relatively new phenomenon but, as a concept, it is one that is both broad and varied. Over the last 30 years, the European programmes for research and education, in particular the ERASMUS programme but also research programmes like the Marie Curie Fellowships, have been the motor for a broader and more strategic approach to internationalisation in higher education in  Europe and have been an example for institutions, nations and regions in other parts of the world. The internationalisation of higher education has been influenced by the globalisation of our economies and societies and the increased importance of knowledge. It is driven by a dynamic and constantly evolving combination of political, economic, socio-cultural and academic rationales. These motives take different forms and dimensions in the different regions and countries, and in institutions and their programmes. There is no one model that fits all. Regional and national differences are varied and constantly evolving, and the same is true within the institutions themselves.

A study of the internationalisation of higher education must take into account a broad range of diverse factors. It has to identify and analyse the global, regional, national and institutional commonalities and differences in the development of internationalisation if it is to understand, influence and support the process of internationalisation in higher education. However, common goals and objectives can also be observed, such as the increased importance of reputation (often symbolised by rankings), visibility and competitiveness; the competition for talented students and scholars; short-term and/or long-term economic gains; demographic considerations; and the focus on employability and social engagement. In 17 country reports – ten from Europe and seven from other continents (developed, emerging and developing countries) – this diversity is illustrated in both national and institutional policies.

Ten key developments for Europe and the rest of the world are identified in the study:

1. Growing importance of internationalisation at all levels (broader range of activities, more strategic approaches, emerging national strategies and ambitions);
2. Increase in institutional strategies for internationalisation (but also risks of homogenisation, focus on quantitative results only);
3. Challenge of funding everywhere;
4. Trend towards increased privatisation in IoHE through revenue generation;
5. Competitive pressures of globalisation, with increasing convergence of aspirations, if not yet actions;
6. Evident shift from (only) cooperation to (more) competition;
7. Emerging regionalisation, with Europe often seen as an example;
8. Numbers rising everywhere, with challenge of quantity versus quality;
9. Lack of sufficient data for comparative analysis and decision-making;
10. Emerging areas of focus are internationalisation of the curriculum, transnational education and digital learning.

In Europe, it is apparent that the internationalisation as a strategic process began with ERASMUS. The programme created common understandings and drivers for internationalisation in most countries, and this was further reinforced by the Bologna Process. Internationalisation is now becoming mainstreamed at the national and institutional level in most countries of the world, and in particular in Europe. The rhetoric speaks of more comprehensive and strategic policies for internationalisation, but in reality there is still a long way to go in most cases. Even in Europe, seen around the world as a best-practice case for internationalisation, there is still much to be done, and there is an uneven degree of accomplishment across the different countries, with significant challenges in Southern and, in particular, Central and Eastern Europe.

Two surveys on internationalisation in Europe and the world, one by the International Association of Universities (IAU) and the other by the European Association for International Education, demonstrate that leaders in higher education and practitioners in international education:

  • Perceive the key benefits and reasons for pursuing internationalisation as the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning and preparing students to live and work in a globalised world
  • View regional/national-level policy as a key external driver and influencer of institutional policy on internationalisation
  • Note that increasing international (and especially outbound) student mobility is a key policy focus in institutional internationalisation policies
  • Report that, as well as international student mobility, international research collaboration and international strategic partnerships are given priority among the internationalisation activities undertaken by European institutions.

The combined results of the two studies draw a highly encouraging picture of internationalisation in Europe. Moreover, the IAU survey showed that Europe is the region most often prioritised in institutional internationalisation activities in other parts of the world.

A Delphi Panel exercise among key experts in international higher education around the world confirmed this picture and resulted in a scenario for the future of internationalisation of higher education in Europe. This scenario sees IoHE as a continually evolving response to globalisation driven by a dynamic range of rationales and a growing number of stakeholders. While it expects mobility and cross-border delivery to continue to grow, it calls for a stronger focus on the curriculum and learning outcomes to ensure internationalisation for all, and not just for the mobile few. It identifies partnerships and alliances in varying forms as becoming increasingly important for both education and research and recognises the key role of the European Commission in supporting IoHE development.

Inevitably, there are barriers to be overcome, linked mainly to funding and regulatory constraints but also to institutional issues of language proficiency and the nature of academic engagement and reward. Equally, there are enablers such as technology, stronger (and more equal) collaboration, a greater focus on qualitative outcomes, the fostering of public-private initiatives and greater alignment between education and research as well as between different levels of education.

The scenario envisages that, if the barriers are removed and the enablers activated, a European higher education will emerge whose graduates will be able to contribute meaningfully as global citizens and global professionals in a Europe that is better placed not only to compete but also to cooperate.

As an outcome of this Delphi Panel exercise, this study has revised Jane Knight’s commonly accepted working definition for internationalisation as ‘the intentional process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education, in order to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff, and to make a meaningful contribution to society‘.

This definition reflects the increased awareness that internationalisation has to become more inclusive and less elitist by not focusing predominantly on mobility but more on the curriculum and learning outcomes. The ‘abroad’ component (mobility) needs to become an integral part of the internationalised curriculum to ensure internationalisation for all, not only the mobile minority. It re-emphasises that internationalisation is not a goal in itself, but a means to enhance quality, and that it should not focus solely on economic rationales.

Most national strategies, including in Europe, are still predominantly focused on mobility, short-term and/or long-term economic gains, recruitment and/or training of talented students and scholars, and international reputation and visibility. This implies that far greater efforts are still needed to incorporate these approaches into more comprehensive strategies, in which internationalisation of the curriculum and learning outcomes, as a means to enhance the quality of education and research, receive more attention. The inclusion of ‘internationalisation at home’ as a third pillar in the internationalisation strategy of the European Commission, European Higher Education in the World, as well as in several national strategies, is a good starting point, but it will require more concrete actions at the European, national and, in particular, the institutional level for it to become reality.

Some additional conclusions in relation to that scenario can be made:

  • There is increased competition from emerging economies and developing countries, but also opportunities for more collaboration as they become stronger actors in the field of higher education
  • There is a shift from recruitment of international students for short-term economic gain to recruitment of talented international students and scholars, in particular in the STEM fields, to meet the needs of academia and industry, which are caused by demographic trends, insufficient local student participation in these fields, and increased demand for innovation in the knowledge economy
  • Funding of higher education, tuition fees and scholarship schemes are diverse and result in different strategies, but also generate a range of obstacles for mobility and cooperation. Greater transparency and the removal of these and other obstacles are needed to increase opportunities for mobility and cooperation
  • Joint degrees are recognised as important for the future of internationalisation of higher education in Europe and beyond, though many barriers still need to be overcome and it must be acknowledged that such degrees have to be built on mutual trust and cooperation, which require time to develop in order to guarantee sustainability
  • There is increased recognition of the need for more higher education and industry collaboration in the context of mobility of students and staff, building on the increased attention to work placements in Erasmus+
  • Greater recognition is being given to the important role of academic and administrative staff in the further development of IoHE. Academics, whose contribution over the past 25 years has been reduced in the increased centralisation of European programme administration, are now understood to play a crucial role in the internationalisation of education and research and need to be given additional support
  • Notwithstanding the accomplishment made in the Bologna Process for further transparency, there are still substantial differences in higher education systems, procedures and funding in Europe between countries, which influence the way internationalisation evolves in these countries and how cooperation can be increased
  • There are also still substantial imbalances in credit and degree mobility, as well as staff mobility, between different countries in Europe. This is particularly the case for Central and Eastern Europe, where there is both mobility imbalance and declining higher education enrolments. This requires attention from the national governments in these countries but also at the European level, as it could lead to an increased divide in higher education in the region
  • Europe is still playing catch-up in the digital revolution, but it is well-placed to be in the vanguard of new thinking on how the digital revolution can improve both quality and access to higher education. It is thus necessary to give increased attention to digital and blended learning as instruments to complement the internationalisation of higher education, not only through MOOCs but also through virtual exchange and collaborative online international learning.

Set out below are recommendations on the internationalisation of higher education for all policy levels:

1. Address the challenges of credit and degree mobility imbalances and institutional cooperation, stemming from substantial differences in higher education systems, procedures and funding.
2. Recognise the growing popularity of work placements and build options to combine them with language and cultural skills training and study abroad.
3. Support the important role of academic and administrative staff in the further development of IoHE.
4. Foster greater higher education and industry collaboration in the context of mobility of students and staff.
5. Pay more attention to the importance of ‘Internationalisation at home’, integrating international and intercultural learning outcomes into the curriculum for all students.
6. Remove the barriers that impede the development of joint degrees.
7. Develop innovative models of digital and blended learning as an instrument to complement IoHE.
8. Align IoHE with internationalisation at other levels of education (primary, secondary, vocational and adult education).
9. Stimulate bilingual and multilingual learning at the primary and secondary education level as a basis for a language policy based on diversity.
10. Remove barriers between internationalisation of research and education, at all levels, for greater synergy and opportunity.

Higher education as a public good, and in the public interest, is not necessarily in conflict with increased entrepreneurship and private ownership, but it is important to ensure that the internationalisation process acts in line with the values and principles as described in the IAU declaration Affirming Academic Values in Internationalisation of Higher Education, A Call for Action (IAU) and the International Student Mobility Charter (EAIE).

The importance of the role of the European Union and the Bologna Process in the development of IoHE, in Europe but also around the globe, is undeniable, and has to be built on even further. In this process, however, it is essential to focus on partnerships and collaboration that recognise and respect the differences in contexts, needs, goals, partner interests and prevailing economic and cultural conditions. Europe can only be an example if it is willing to acknowledge that it can also learn from elsewhere; it offers an important model but not the only one for the modernisation of higher education.

Summing up, we can say that the future of IoHE in Europe looks potentially bright, but its further positive development and impact will only take place if the various stakeholders and participants maintain an open dialogue about rationales, benefits, means, opportunities and obstacles in this ongoing process of change. We cannot ignore the fact that IoHE is also being challenged by increasingly profound social, economic and cultural issues, such as the financial crisis, unfavourable demographic trends, immigration and ethnic and religious tensions. While these challenges represent a threat, they also raise our awareness of the importance of IoHE in developing a meaningful response.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/540-370

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