Yesterday’s article covered experts’ predictions that the US would continue to be international students’ first choice over the next decade. But the expert we quoted most extensively also noted that smaller to medium-sized schools in the US will have to adopt more comprehensive internationalisation strategies and mindsets to make the most of their potential to draw international students.
This ICEF Monitor article examines what, exactly, such “comprehensive internationalisation strategies and mindsets” might include – and it’s relevant not just for US education institutions but schools the world over who are serious about attracting international students.
From “ad hoc” to institution-wide
The days when internationalisation was a novel, uncharted experiment are over.
If an institution is committed to internationalisation, the thinking is no longer “let’s set up an office and staff to handle that separate, different group of students we have who are not domestic.” Certainly, there will be a specifically charged unit of an education institution that deals exclusively with international students – attracting them, welcoming them, supporting them – but more and more, the whole institution will be involved.
Speaking with The Guardian, Ms Mary Churchill, special assistant to the vice president of institutional advancement at Queens College, City University of New York, said one of the top priorities for schools with international mandates should be:
“Moving from ad-hoc offices that deal with international issues to a mainstreamed internationalisation where every person in every office has some level of skill and knowledge with regards to internationalisation.”
Ms Churchill established – across her college – “Global Champions, staff who like languages, travelling, and embracing global diversity.” These staff members take the lead at the institution in establishing and sharing best practices in internationalisation.
Mr Sam Redhead, international student advisor at the University of East London, chimed in:
“We have workshops that are popular with staff, such as ‘Building cross-cultural understanding: supporting international students.’ We also have Country Explore Guides available to enable staff to gain a better perspective on a variety of countries and cultures.”
Mr Redhill also spoke to the increasingly important element of immigration: “The international student advice team runs regular workshops with staff around basic immigration issues, to ensure that academic advice doesn’t clash with a student’s responsibilities whilst they are in the UK – and also to work closely with staff to adapt to immigration changes in a way that will have the least negative impact on the student experience.”
From support staff to faculty to student recruiters, everyone needs to feel like they have a part in a school’s internationlisation mission – and correspondingly, in doing everything they can to make the student’s experience at the institution a success.
For a great example of a guide for faculty see a comprehensive resource from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada: TRU: A Globally Minded Campus (A Resource for Academic Departments).
Helping domestic and international students find common ground
In addition, a school’s domestic students play a key role, too.
Internationalisation can still be a new idea for some of them, especially in some of the smaller, less “world-class” institutions, and they need help to acclimatise to foreign students being in their midst.
One of the persistent problems international students still speak of is feeling, at best, like it’s hard to make friends with domestic students, and at worst, feeling unwelcome. This interesting but admittedly small survey included the following verbatims from American and international students:
- American student: “I think that I get nervous to say something wrong, or if they have a thick accent that I will offend someone by asking them to repeat what they said more than once.”
- International student: “When they’re in their own country and there’s a minority outsider who they’ll have to put particular effort into getting to know, I think most of them just don’t bother.”
Remedying awkwardness and even tension with a goal of encouraging a globally integrated campus is incredibly important: research has shown that the ability to make friends and feel comfortable on campus is one of the top determinants of international students’ satisfaction and experience.
One start-of-the-year session for domestic students won’t accomplish much, but issuing regular communications about the school’s mission to be a global campus – including thorny and/or sensitive subjects in some well-planned initiatives – is key. So is a year-long effort to integrate domestic and international students – to celebrate difference and paradoxically, to minimise its alienating potential.
As a study prepared some time back for the Export Education Policy Project of the New Zealand Ministry of Education puts it:
“Research has shown that the presence of international students, even in large numbers, is insufficient in itself to promote intercultural interactions, to develop intercultural friendships and to result in international understanding. Rather, situations must be structured to foster these processes.
Studies have also revealed that students, both local and international, perceive it is the responsibility of educational institutions to increase and enhance intercultural interactions.”
Creating more opportunities – especially social ones – for domestic and international students to become comfortable with one another is definitely an area that requires much more work at a large number of universities, research suggests.
Understanding that internationlisation is more than recruiting international students
One of the internationlisation experts we cited earlier, Ms Churchill, told The Guardian that her second recommendation for schools pursuing internationalisation is:
“Developing a global strategy that also gives an institution a mission for why and how you do what they do when it comes to global initiatives.”
Internationalisation, as we’ve so often said in other articles, is not a numbers game – it’s not just about revenue. Increasingly, attracting international students is crucial to a nation’s potential and to its ties with the rest of the world. The same can be said for an institution.
Another Guardian article notes that:
“ …. to see internationalisation as simply synonymous with international student recruitment is both a limited approach and one loaded with concerns over neo-colonialism and imperialism. The sector now speaks more of international partnerships – from research collaborations and consultancy to academic and student exchanges.”
The Guardian features a follow-up guest post from Mr Aldwyn Cooper, principal and CEO of Regent’s College, London, who explains that his institution (at the time of writing) had “130 partners dotted around the globe, partnerships that we build to enable students and staff to enhance their knowledge and skills.”
Mr Cooper explains, “I would argue that institutions have a responsibility to ensure their graduates leave with truly global mindsets.”
This responsibility and sense of mission is key to the success and sustainability of internationally minded institutions – wherever they are in the world. The best schools will have ways of compellingly, eloquently, and clearly articulating their internationalisation missions – and making them live and breathe throughout the institution.