The State of Global Higher Ed

A new report assesses how the internationalization of higher education is changing and why it's becoming more important than ever before.
October 5, 2010

Colleges and universities are placing more emphasis on the global student experience despite a decline in funding, the third edition of a worldwide survey on internationalization in higher education found.

The new International Association of Universities report analyzes data collected last year from 745 institutions in 115 countries, exploring global trends and individual regions to assess where, why and to whom internationalization is important, and what barriers to it exist.

“Internationalization of higher education is not a new phenomenon, but the ways in which it is evolving and the importance it has taken on in recent years are unprecedented,” IAU President Juan Ramon de la Fuente wrote in the report. “Furthermore, the future looks bright, especially as globalization is unlikely to slow down, and technological advances continue to shrink both time and space.”

Not all results were readily comparable to findings in the 2005 Global Survey, which followed the first edition that was published in 2003, because many questions or optional responses changed this time. But the authors did note some significant trends, IAU Program Officer Ross Hudson said:

  • More institutions reported having specific internationalization budgets and monitoring systems.
  • The institutional rationale for internationalization is focusing more on students and preparing them for a globalized world than on strengthening research capacity and production, though both are considered important.
  • Whereas institutions previously reported lack of faculty interest and involvement as the main obstacles to internationalization, they now say, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it’s a lack of financial resources.
  • Joint degree programs and dual/double degree programs with international partners are becoming increasingly widespread.
  • English is growing increasingly dominant as the foreign language of most interest to students. (According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Education at a Glance 2010 report, more institutions in non-English-speaking countries are offering courses in English “to overcome their linguistic disadvantage in terms of attracting foreign students.”)

While nearly 18 percent of institutions did not reply or answered "none" to a question about perceived risks, the ones that did respond identified the same top three factors that were of biggest concern in 2005: commodification/commercialization of education programs, brain drain, and an increase in the number of degree mills and low-quality providers.

Most regions identified improved international awareness of students and enhanced cooperation and solidarity as the most important benefits of internationalization. And although many institutions reported that international student mobility policy is a high priority, the actual level of mobility and scholarship incentives for students “remains very low,” the report says.

Citing data from the American Council on Education, the Modern Language Association and the Institute for International Education, the report concludes that despite the historical theme of internationalization in the United States, there is much work to be done.

“Over the past thirty years, there has been a steady stream of reports and commissions exhorting the U.S. education system to ensure that students are prepared for global citizenship and the demands of an interconnected world,” the report reads. “The continued calls for action and the data available suggest that the U.S. educational system has not achieved the goal of producing a globally literate citizenry, nor has it created a sufficient supply of language and area studies experts for the needs of business, government and academe.”


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