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NEW ORLEANS – This year’s Association of International Education Administrators Annual Conference took as its theme “Re-imagining Higher Education in a Global Context” and sessions have focused on many of the phenomena that are propelling change, including the increasing interest in branch campuses and dual and joint degree programs, the potential of online learning, the consolidation of English as the lingua franca in academe, and the growth of private sector investment in international student recruitment and programming.

“Hopefully internationalization will again become much more innovative,” said Hans de Wit, the director of the Centre for Higher Education Internationalization at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan and a professor at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. “We still do basically what we have done for the last 20 years, and the landscape of internationalization has completely changed.”

Among the key changes discussed were the increasing numbers of globally mobile students, the rise of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, which disproportionately are offered by universities in the United States but attract students from outside it, and the proliferation of academic programs taught in English, which universities in non-English speaking countries view as a mechanism for increasing their international student enrollments. In a forum on international mobility trends sponsored by World Education Services and held in parallel with the AIEA conference, Leandro Tessler, an associate professor and adviser to the president at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), in Brazil, cited the lack of knowledge of English and the resistance to English-taught programs as the biggest obstacle to the competitiveness of Latin American universities, while he pointed to intra-regional mobility and the establishment of joint and dual degree programs between Brazilian and European universities as more positive trends.

Also at that forum, participants spoke about the emphasis on recruitment of ever-larger numbers of international students to American campuses and the role of for-profit companies in this space.  James Cooney, vice provost for international affairs at Colorado State University, outlined five different approaches to increasing international enrollment: the do-it-yourself model – “the old standard, which some argue should be the only standard” – in-depth partnerships with international institutions, relationships with government sponsoring agencies, the use of agents (controversial in itself), and variations on the agent relationship, such as in the case of his own institution’s alliance with INTO University Partnerships, which recruits students into pathway programs that it runs in partnership with the institution. Cooney said he’s been “delighted” with the partnership with INTO, which promises to bring 800 new international students to the institution.

“If you’re doing on international enrollment what you did 10 years ago, you’re missing the boat,” Cooney said.

Mitch Leventhal, vice chancellor for global affairs at the State University of New York’s system office, seized on what he described as the “elephant in the room” – the extent to which venture capitalists are driving universities’ internationalization agendas. Leventhal cited INTO’s recent announcement that it had received a more than $100 million investment from Leeds Equity Partners – an enormous amount of money to be invested in a single company, he said, but nonetheless, in the overall context of the international education business, “a drop in the bucket.”

“There are hundreds of millions of dollars being invested every year into companies in this space. If we don’t think they’re influencing what we do, we’re out to lunch,” said Leventhal, who's been a leading proponent of working with educational agents.  

Kristin S. Williams, the associate provost for graduate enrollment management at George Washington University, said that when she’s approached by a company offering its services, she always asks, “What is it that you can offer that we can’t do ourselves?” After all, she said, the company intends to make a profit off of its services, so why can’t the university do the same thing and reinvest the revenue into its core educational programs? 

“Too often our agendas seem to be driven by opportunity, not by need -- need in terms of where we want to go as an institution,” Williams said.

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