Internationalization of Higher Education

Subject: Education
Pages: 8
Words: 2267
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: PhD


Internationalization of higher education (IHE) can be traced as far back as the 12th century when scholars in Europe moved to medieval universities outside their countries in pursuit of knowledge. However, the levels of internationalization in this era were limited and only few students went to study in foreign nations. Improvements in transport and communication which characterize the modern world have facilitated the IHE in the 21st century. In addition to this, IHE has to a great extent been fueled by governments and universities increasingly recognizing the importance of exposing college students to the ideas and methods of different countries, particularly those which are considered crucial to the growth and development of the country’s economy. The internationalization of higher education has become a very popular idea all over the world in the last 2 decades and its prevalence is increasing even further. With this in mind, this paper will set out to analyze theory on the impact of internationalizing higher education on both nations and institutions.

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Internationalization: A Definition

The term “internationalization” as relates to education is defined in a variety of ways due to the complexity and richness attached to the term as a concept. One of the best definitions offered by Knight (1993, p.21) describes internationalization of higher education as “the process of integrating an international/intercultural dimension into the teaching, research and service functions of the institution”. This process is influenced to a large extent by the globalization phenomenon which has characterized the 21st century. Knight (1997, p.6) asserts that IHE is “one of the ways a country responds to the impact of globalization yet, at the same time, respects the individuality of the nation”.

There are various dimensions of internationalization which institutes of higher education can engage in. Internalization can occur “at home” where institutes engage in functions such as; internationalizing of their curriculum, study abroad programs, recruitment of international staff, and faculty exchange programs (Olcott, 2009). Internalization can also have an external dimension which includes; establishment of branch campuses, recruitment of international students, and distance-learning programmes.

Reasons for Internationalization

While the internationalization of higher education has been in existence for centuries, this concept began to gain ground in the later half of the 20th century and is today occurring at a phenomenal rate. DeWit (2009) reports that a 2006 survey on Universities indicated that 73% of the participating higher education institutes assigned high priority to internationalization. This emphasis on internationalization has risen as nations and institutes seek to reap the benefits of IHE.

A major reason for IHE has been to help satisfy the demands of the international job market. International competitiveness of a country’s workforce is seen as a prerequisite to economic growth and development. With this realization, many governments have taken efforts to internationalize their university curricula so as to prepare their students for both domestic and international labor markets (Harman, 2004). The gains from internationalization, especially economic and talent gains have also driven governments and higher education administrators in internalizing the phenomenon. The landscape of IHE has changed significantly over the past 10 years with competition and commercialization gradually replacing the exchanges and partnership concepts that traditionally characterized IHE (de Hans, 2009).

Increased demand for quality education especially from developing countries has contributed to IHE over the last few decades. Olcott (2009) notes that the demand for higher education globally is out-pacing the capacity for many nations to supply this commodity. This statement holds true for many developing nations whose economies have expanded but the educational industry in the countries has not expanded proportionately. This has led to a lack of sufficient student places which has resulted in a need for export education.

Impacts of Internationalization

Impacts on Countries

Internationalization of education is viewed as essential for solving many of the world’s conflicts and promoting equality and fairness. Research indicates that internationalizing higher education serves the national security goals of a country. Dewey, P. & Stephen (2009) suggests that the end of the cold war fragmented power in many places which made dangers such as civil wards, religious and ethnic conflicts, migration, and refugees more obvious. The unique history or a country, its indigenous culture as well as its resources mold the manner in which the country responds to and relates with other nations. Foreign students get an opportunity to take an up close look at a counties culture. Tarhouni and Tony (2003) assert that IHE contributes significantly to maintaining a country’s security since students from around the world develop good will and strong personal ties with citizens of the host country. This serves in the best interest of a country’s foreign relations since the foreign students act as good will ambassadors for the country.

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IHE gives the country an opportunity to benefit from a wide pool of talent obtained from the international community. Major developed nations such as the US recognize the role that international students have played in the advancement of the country’s research competitiveness in science and technology. Pandit (2007) documents that America’s advancement of scientific research and technology has historically relied disproportionately on foreign-born talent which entered the country through internationalization of education.

Many countries especially in developing countries view internationalization of education as a strategy that may be used to confront problems and gain economic prosperity. Murphy (2007) asserts that African countries see internationalization of education as a potent weapon in confronting starvation, poverty, and the lack of technology. Third world countries such as Mexico have intricately linked the internationalization of education to the country’s economic policies. Murphy (2007) suggests that as a result of internationalization, students are exposed to and therefore exhibit greater knowledge of international methods and practices. This knowledge may be applied to help develop the nation.

Recruitment of international students’ results in substantial financial benefits to a country and as a result of this, the export of higher educational services is becoming a major aspect of IHE. This aspect is relatively new since the very idea of exportation of educational services which are considered a public good is seen as offensive. However, Harman (2004) declares that this is one of the new realities of internationalization and it is receiving increased attention with the General Agreement of Trade in Services. Trade in higher education is an important manifestation in the new IHE landscape with research indicating a growing emphasis on “marketization” and competition within the landscape (de Hans, 2009, p.2). Qiang (2003) argues that the recruitment of foreign students has become a significant factor for institutional income and of national economic interest. Huge exporters of education such as Australian see international students as vitally important to the Australian economy. Harman, (2004) notes that in the year 2000, export education was the either largest export earner for Australia.

Not all the impacts of IHE have been positive since some nations have experienced a loss of human and intellectual capital as students have been sent abroad to get a degree. This problem of human and intellectual capital is especially apparent in third world countries where many top scientists and promising academics have left the country. Some students from developing countries leave their home countries for studies never to return (Tansel & Naomi, 2003). Studies indicate that in Mexico, 30% of individuals with PhDs reside in the US while 79% of science students in the same country go to study in the US with government funding never to return (Murphy, 2007).

Another downside to internationalization of higher education is that many countries have continued to rank poorly in research and knowledge base. Olcott (2009) reveals that for many nations, the short-term strategy of tapping into the expertise, research and knowledge base of highly developed educational systems has remained preferable to using resources domestically so as to attain these high levels of research and knowledge base. While these countries have had the long-term strategy of developing their own high-quality, sustainable higher education systems, this has not worked out and they have remained poorly developed.

Impact on Educational Institutions

The first significant impact of IHE on universities is the substantial financial benefits they have accrued. Universities benefit directly from IHE though the fees and payments made by international students. The ability for universities to generate income is becoming increasingly significant since many governments are encouraging the institutes to increase their own income-earning capacity and become self sufficient (Pandit, 2007). This move combined with reductions in government funding for universities have provided huge financial incentives for international enrolments. Universities have been provided with a large number of able and highly motivated students as a result of IHE. This has been particularly important for research and PhD programmes which may have less or even no enrollments if domestic students were solely relied upon.

Harman (2004, p.113) asserts that the presence of international students increasingly sensitizes both staff and domestic students to the “need for universities to prepare students to operate effectively internationally”. IHE has therefore led to the internationalization of domestic students and the adoption of curricula that is internationally oriented in some fields. Universities which have a significant number of incoming international students have been forced to make some adjustments in their programs so as to accommodate the international students. In non-English speaking countries, universities have increased the number of English language programs. Many universities have also put in place strategies for internationalization of some of the content of the teaching curriculum. Internationalization of the university curriculum has often been accompanied by the importation of foreign educational programs for many developing countries such as India and china.

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IHE has led to the establishment of branch campuses in foreign nations as well as formation of partnerships between foreign and local higher education institutes. It has also led to increased partnerships between higher educational institutes across the world. Countries such as China have recorded a significant increase in the number of joint or transnational programs offered in partnership with foreign institutes (Huang, 2005). Universities have started to establish branch campuses in foreign countries with the intention of serving the local population as well as the home country students who are residing in the host country.

IHE has led to the establishment of huge universities in many countries. These institutes have in many cases been promoted by individual governments which support the institutes with large budgets with the goal of making them world-class universities. China stands out in this strategy with Huang (2005) reporting that by 2003, the Chinese government was specially funding 34 universities which had been specifically selected and encouraged to become world-famous universities. This establishment of world-status universities is a quest by countries to build up their own centers of excellence so as to effectively be a part of the global competition.

Murphy (2007) states that internationalization of education is a potent antidote to the subjectivism which compromises most domestic education. This is because IHE exposes both students and staff to a diverse sphere of knowledge. The quality of education provided by a country is also given a critical look as it is compared by international standards. Harman (2004) notes that some universities have made explicit commitment to quality assurance for their international activities in response to the IHE phenomena.

IHE demands significant resources from institutes than would be the case if the institute only responded to domestic forces. Dewey and Stephen (2009) states that while many institutes are passionate about internationalization, this passion is not enough and it needs to be backed by strategic coordination, support and resources from the university’s administration. This puts a strain on small institutes are resources are transferred from some faculties so as to fund the subjects that are deemed as internationally competitive.

Discussion and conclusion

Internationalization of higher education has advanced rapidly under the tutelage of national governments. It can be projected that this trend is likely to become even more prevalent in the years to come. With this phenomenal growth, international knowledge and experience is increasingly becoming an important pillar of the university system not only in industrialized countries but also in much of the developing world. Current realities in the higher education sphere suggest that internationalism will remain a central force in higher education as the mobility of students, faculty and programs continually increases.

Undoubtedly, the huge gains in terms of economic and talent that internationalization promises have been the key motivational factors for governments and higher education institutes. The export of education services has become one of the most important aspects of internationalization. As a matter of fact, IHE is undermining the role of higher education as a public good as commercialization sets in. While some educationalists frown on the economical justification of internationalization of higher education, Knight and Hans (1997) assert that economic rationale is readily justified since the requirements of a modern, more global labor force is to build a sustainable economy; development projects that can compete internationally in new technology; and higher education as an export commodity for the nation. Even so, Harman (2004) warns that there is considerable danger in education being looked at in terms of trade and economic benefits.

This paper has reaffirmed that knowledge is increasingly a commodity that moves between countries in today’s globalized world. This paper has provided evidence that in many developed countries, the IHE is more commercially driven as most transnational programs are profit-oriented. This paper has highlighted that the pursuit of alternative revenue sources is a primary goal for the internationalization of higher education. While there are some demerits that arise from IHE, it has been demonstrated by the discussions presented in this paper that IHE has a mostly positive impact on nations and institutes.

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