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The Future of Higher-Education Internationalization

Across the world, higher education has experienced dramatic changes in recent years. There is no doubt that it should be viewed in the global context and not solely from a domestic point of view. Internationalization of higher education is no longer just about the mobility of students and signing of international memoranda of understanding. Issues now include the internationalization of curriculum, “brain drain” versus “brain circulation,” the internationalization of research, offering of dual degrees with foreign partners, establishing of branch campuses abroad, involvement of international alumni, creation of international quality assurance frameworks, proliferation of international rankings, increased competition for international students, and the role of recruiting agents. There are just a few of the many changes that higher education is experiencing in a globally interconnected world.

While most practitioners see internationalization as something good for individuals and institutions, specific initiatives can have wide-ranging effects on the parties involved, some positive and some negative. Even the traditional scope of action–mobility of students–and the way internationalization of higher education used to be defined, no longer seem sufficient to address a much more complex and changing reality. What is true is that while internationalization of higher education is here to stay, there is considerable variation in the way it unfolds over time on the regional, institutional, and individual level. Because it is an evolving phenomenon, its meaning can be difficult to pin down.

This explains why well respected scholars like Hans de Wit and Uwe Brandenburg, Jocelyne Gacel-Avila, John Hudzik, and many more, have raised legitimate questions about the need to revisit the traditional concept and definition of internationalization of higher education.

As a way to address such concerns, the Paris-based International Association of Universities (IAU) just announced the creation of an ad-hoc international experts group that, according to Eva Egron-Polak, secretary general of IAU, intends “to bring together perspectives from all parts of the world inter alia to: assess the extent to which internationalization activities fit the current conceptual umbrella, to critically examine the causes that are leading to some questioning and even criticism of the concept, and to investigate the ways to address these concerns.”

The IAU group will engage in a broader discussion and analysis of trends and different approaches, and it is expected to suggest a revised understanding of internationalization of higher education.

As expressed by de Wit and Brandenburg in the provocative paper entitled “The End of Internationalization,” it is imperative to “move away from dogmatic and idealistic concepts of internationalization and globalization,” and to understand them “in their pure meaning–not as goals in themselves but rather as means to an end.”

At this point some might wonder if internationalization of higher education is really dead.  The answer is evident: it is most definitely not. It is more vibrant than ever. Nevertheless, it has changed and will continue to do so. Paraphrasing Paul Valéry, I may say that what makes us worried about internationalization of higher education is that it is no longer what it used to be. Are we prepared for such a change?

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