Evolving the Higher Education Sector: The Internationalisation Agenda

How UK universities are responding to the globalisation of education was the topic for discussion at April’s Internationalising Higher Education Conference, organised and hosted by the University of Salford and attended by staff from Idox.

Such strategies represent a move away from an inward-facing focus on recruitment towards a series of considered approaches and activities designed to ensure that entire institutions are more internationally facing.

Key components of internationalisation were identified as follows:

  • Enhancing the student experience to create a truly international curriculum as well as an international environment, with improved food, community and events opportunities.
  • Developing partnerships with overseas universities and international collaborations, relating both to research and teaching.
  • The growing prominence of Transnational Education (TNE), where the learner is located in a country different to the one in which the awarding institution is based.
  • Increasingly diverse international operations, including overseas offices and campuses.

An introduction to the growing prominence of internationalisation was provided by the hosts of the day, represented by John MacKenzie – Policy Officer to the Pro-Vice Chancellor International Priorities of the University of Salford – who outlined the university’s work and experiences in developing a holistic internationalisation strategy.  Perhaps surprising was how recently the issue of internationalisation has reached the top of Salford’s agenda – Mackenzie’s role was only established in the summer of academic year 2013/14 –  but this was explained as typical of the experiences of other universities and reflected the recent trend of internationalisation taking such a significant role in higher education.

Yet despite this relatively short timeframe, Salford has experienced rapid progress in the two years since it developed an integrated internationalisation strategy.  Indeed, the university has since developed, and in some cases enacted, plans to open five overseas offices, two of which – in the United Arab Emirates and China – were particularly successful, and led to more opportunities than originally envisaged.  The holistic approach taken by Salford resonated in all of the successful experiences that were shared throughout the day.

Indeed, the need for such an approach was demonstrated in a presentation from Janet Ilieva, Head of Economic and Qualitative Analysis at the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), who drew on the Council’s extensive research to highlight some of the key global issues facing UK universities, including the following:

  • The UK continues to over-rely on a few, selective markets for its international students, particularly relating to TNE students, with China and Malaysia making up a combined 70% of the total transnational UK student population.
  • Furthermore, England has built up a strong dependence on countries such as Iraq and Libya that have a plethora of state-funded scholarship programmes. These could easily fall away if the funding priorities of their respective governments change.
  • The need to diversify away from China was reinforced by statistics projecting that the number of 20 year olds in China will fall by 44% between 2005-10 and 2020-25, while competition from South East Asia is forecasted to intensify in this timeframe.

These figures highlight the need for universities to be inventive in appealing to international students, backed by the insight provided by Professor Christine Ennew, Provost of the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus, into one of the less common but most recognisable forms of internationalisation. Opened in 2005, the Malaysia campus allowed the institution to take its programmes directly to students who may not be able to make the trip to the UK.

The congregated audience was able to hear firsthand some of the biggest logistical challenges that face universities attempting to establish a physical presence overseas, such as the difficulties of adapting to a new international context while maintaining the core values and expectations of the “home” institution, as well as dealing with the day-to-day logistical challenges that are almost impossible to prepare for, with one noticeable example being when the Malaysian campus found an entire course had been withdrawn after the equivalent was pulled in the UK.

Further experiences shared throughout the day helped to reinforce the overarching opinion that the traditional approach to internationalisation as little more than a recruitment drive is no longer credible, whilst it became equally apparent that there is no single all-encompassing model for universities to follow in order to broaden their international appeal.  Instead, higher education institutions must adopt a proactive, outward-facing approach and be prepared to invest time and resource to examine each international opportunity on a case-by-case basis, thereby ensuring that they remain appealing to today’s globally connected and increasingly discerning international students.

For further information on how Idox is supporting the internationalisation agenda – including the provision of funding and policy information to universities via leading services GRANTfinder, RESEARCHconnect and POLICYfinder – visit Idox’s Funding Solutions pages here.

by Chris Drake, Idox

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