28 Oct 2013

Football and the internationalisation of education

football-and-international-educationAt the Conference of the Americas on International Education (CAIE), the audience listening to the plenary moderated by Francisco Marmolejo, Coordinator of Higher Education at the World Bank, was intrigued when Jamil Salmi, specialist in higher education, began his answer to the question of why Latin American universities are not well represented in rankings by talking about football.

So what is the connection?

Salmi pointed out that the world’s top football teams have international players. Many also have international coaches or managers (Ancelotti in Real Madrid, Mourinho in Chelsea), even in the case of the national selection of some countries (Capello as the England coach). In their search for the best players, and for the right trainer, they look beyond their own backyard.

In Latin American universities, however, it is seldom the case that a university is led by a rector/president from another country – in some cases it is even expressly prohibited by law. This reflects a mindset that does not include a global perspective and therefore does not consider international candidates. It asks for a change of attitude, the willingness to look beyond national borders in the search for quality and excellence, to find the person with the right skill set. And this need is not limited to Latin America. This is not to say, by any means, that excellent candidates cannot be found on home ground. However, a university that appoints a rector from another country is giving a clear signal that it is embracing internationalisation, going beyond the search for international students and academic staff right to the institution’s strategic centre, preparing itself internally for change. This comment brought to mind two thoughts:

The International Relations Office: the Messi and the Torres of the university

The first one concerns an issue that has been discussed by many EAIE members over the years. The International Relations Offices of our universities are often home to international staff, usually in a much higher percentage than in other areas of university administration and management. It would be interesting to explore and attempt to measure the specific contribution made by these professionals to the internationalisation process of their universities. They are the international players in our teams: the Messi and the Torres. And the added value they provide can serve as an example, as many of their skills would be transferrable to other aspects of university administration in an institution that embraces comprehensive internationalisation.

Mobility in football vs. higher education

The second concerns another advantage enjoyed by football teams – the ease with which international players can cross borders. Entry visas do not appear to be an issue when a team wants to sign up a new international player; they often enjoy special fiscal privileges and in some cases even citizenship to the country which wants them on their team is granted. Yet in the field of education, most higher education institutions struggle to get the necessary support for a coherent inter-ministerial policy which facilitates the entry of international students and staff – who as well as being a source of finance can contribute to the internationalisation process, and can help to improve the institution’s place in the rankings.

It seems that the internationalisation of football is of greater strategic importance in many countries than the internationalisation of higher education. Lots of food for thought. What is the situation in your country?

  • Markus Laitinen

    Not too long ago I made a similar analogy to our University Board. The point I was trying to make was that instead of being happy for winning the national championship for the umpteenth time, we should turn our sights on the “Champions League” of higher education and research. The point was well taken but it seems that there are many more constraints for universities than there are for football clubs, both internal and external. But there is no doubt in my mind that the change can be made, though it will take considerable dedication and effort.

  • Andrew Smith

    Meanwhile, alumni who make it big are brand ambassadors, like international footballers, whether their nation or their present club’s city, institutions etc.

  • Polymorph

    Ray Van Es

    Owner & CEO POLYMORPH S.A. creator of PPLUGG (on-line virtual career service centre platform) )

    Universities are generally complex, bureaucratic
    and political organizations. The Rector / President requires special
    leadership skills to create and execute a “cohesive” University
    strategy, that includes organizational, local, national and
    international requirements and future outlook.

    There is much to say in favor of seeking a Rector / President within the
    Country where the University resides. given the complexity of a
    University organization, a Rector / President is required to understand
    the culture, the system, the education, the local work styles, the
    important national networks, combined with an international experience
    and -out of organization focus.

    The “Coach” does not necessarily have to be the Rector / President. An
    External Adviser could very well play that role. Leadership of major
    global companies also engage with high end Advisers (Like McKinsey) in
    order to obtain a broader view, get different perspectives, create an
    organization SWOT analysis and develop a forward looking Strategy to
    retain or grow market share.

    I do believe that nationally appointed Rectors / Presidents need to have
    strong leadership characteristics and be open to external /
    international views and support.

    We need to keep in mind that they don’t have a choice. The extreme
    expansion of students in the coming 10 years (specifically coming from
    developing countries) + the developments in on-line education + the
    growing number of (foreign) exchange program students, will be a
    challenge that cannot and will not be ignored by University leadership.

    I’m sure that International Higher Education Advisers / Consultants are
    already active and will increase their engagement with HE Leadership