Institutional autonomy plus national support seems to be the key combination
By Lucia Brajkovic
Governments are motivated by a variety of academic, economic, political, and social goals when designing policies and programs to spur higher education internationalization. While reports of such initiatives often appear in the media, they are typically presented on a case-by-case basis—that is, without much reference to how each newly emerging national policy compares with other policies around the world, what the landscape of policy initiatives worldwide looks like, or how effective they are in different national settings.
In order to categorize these policies and place them in a larger context, ACE’s 2015 study Internationalizing Higher Education Worldwide: National Policies and Programs takes stock of the variety of national and regional government bodies and other entities that implement internationalization policies. Overall, the report found that clarity, commitment, flexibility, and buy-in by a broad spectrum of actors are crucial ingredients for policy effectiveness.
A recent study by the British Council, The Shape of Global Higher Education: International Mobility of Students, Research and Education Provision, takes the analysis a step further, identifying countries and territories with the most supportive international education policies, including student mobility, transnational education, and international research. Germany, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Hong Kong were first among the 38 countries included in the study— they had in common policies recognizing transnational education (TNE) qualifications, visa policies in place for international research mobility, and international student scholarships.
“Quantitative indicators like student mobility and TNE all have increased hugely over the past five to 10 years and part of that is that countries are getting better at recording data so it’s becoming more of an embedded part of national systems,” said Michael Peak, senior advisor on education research at the British Council, in an interview with PIE News.
Janet Ilieva, principal author of the British Council report, concluded that having both national support and institutional autonomy seems to be the winning combination for successful internationalization, singling out Australia, France, and the Netherlands as countries where the higher education sector works well with policymakers.
The U.S. Policy Landscape
The United States, a country with a high research output and over one million international students, is not among the highest-scoring countries in British Council study. As Ilieva told PIE News, that is partly due to the absence of a national higher education policy: “There isn’t a national policy and that’s mainly because internationalization [endeavors] are driven at the institutional level,” she said. “I don’t think the sector gets the same level of support as institutions in Germany, for example.”
This issue also has been tackled in the recent ACE report Internationalizing U.S. Higher Education: Current Policies, Future Directions, in which Robin Matross Helms takes an in-depth look at the higher education internationalization policy landscape in the United States. The ACE report takes stock of the internationalization-related initiatives of key policy players—including the U.S. Departments of State, Education, and Defense, as well as the National Science Foundation and other agencies—and categorizes their policies and programs according to the typology developed in the companion report Internationalizing Higher Education Worldwide to draw comparisons to global activity. Based on this analysis, the report considers what additional federal efforts are needed to further advance higher education internationalization on a national scale.
Given the decentralized structure of the U.S. government and the size and diversity of the higher education system in this country, it seems unlikely that a single, overarching national policy would be truly effective. Instead, going forward, the United States needs a broad, coordinated set of well-funded initiatives that support the comprehensive internationalization of U.S. higher education. Toward this end, we need a focused effort to better leverage existing government policies and programs to advancing internationalization, and ensure that all policies and programs—existing and new—are adequately funded.
The ACE report concludes that ultimately, the internationalization of higher education needs to become a jointly held national priority by the government and colleges and universities. However, in light of the Trump administration’s FY 2018 budget proposal, the future of internationalization seems to have taken the turn for the worse. As detailed by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the proposed budget would cut federal education programs by more than $10 billion, eliminating programs that foster foreign-language study and reducing spending that supports international education programs and exchanges, such as the Fulbright Scholar program, by 55 percent.
But as former ACE President Molly Corbett Broad said in a statement to The Chronicle and other media outlets, “Thankfully, Congress has the ultimate responsibility for setting funding levels, and with the FY 2017 spending bills, it showed a willingness to reject similarly damaging proposals. Colleges and universities and their students will work with Congress to continue the historic, bipartisan support for federal student aid and research funding.”
While the British Council study focused on identifying national and regional internationalization policies, it did not investigate the extent to which these policies have been effectively implemented. The next step needed to provide sound policy recommendations would entail measuring practical barriers that institutions may face when engaging in internationalization efforts. Further research is needed to explore the gaps in countries’ stated internationalization policies, and the reality of their implementation on the ground.