Beyond recruitment and mobility: Internationalisation at Home

Beyond recruitment and mobility: Internationalisation at Home

Today (and yesterday) on the EAIE blog, we are highlighting the winter issue of the EAIE’s member magazine Forum on the theme of Internationalisation at Home. While mobility may still reign as a key aspect of internationalisation, it is by no means the only one. Coined in 1999 within the EAIE, Internationalisation at Home is today more than an alternative to mobility: it is a strategy in its own right. Today’s author discusses the practical side of Internationalisation at Home through receiving mobile scholars and students.

Support services play a vital role in empowering students and faculty to participate fully in university life. Universities invest a great deal of effort and resources into recruiting international students and faculty – but how do you make sure these efforts are strategic?

Traditionally, the focus has been placed on the formal curriculum. However, success depends a great deal on the ‘informal’, on the effective and smooth integration into university activities. Higher School of Economics (HSE) Moscow, offers itself as a case study for illustrating how Internationalisation at Home (IaH) through support services can be addressed with persistence, patience and deliberateness.

Identifying barriers and managing risks

When HSE started recruiting internationally, it expected the academic communities within faculties and departments to manage the integration of students and faculty on their own. The experience quickly prompted an internal discussion. The major concern was that without a guarantee of adequate, standardised and timely support on the ‘local’ level, there would be serious risks for the image of the entire university.

To focus and mainstream its IaH efforts, HSE established, in February 2013, a new Internationalisation Office (IO). Its tasks are to develop an effective, standardised integration process for internationally recruited faculty and students, to build up and implement effective interaction with relevant counterparts on the faculty and department levels based on analysis of existing procedures, policies and registered problems.

Through its work, the IO has identified major obstacles for successful integration: language barries, differences in the inner structure of academic environments, cultural differences and national regulatory environment. These barriers needed to be approached deliberately, with a conscious effort to mitigate their negative effects and provide instruments that help the faculty and students fully participate in university life. The strategy undertaken is as follows:

Building bridges

  1. In the ‘pre-arrival’ and early integration stages, successful management of expectations is vital. As such, two websites in English were launched – ifaculty and istudents – that provide relevant information.
  2. To provide non-discriminatory access to information, an expert translation centre was recently created. Its major tasks are to translate HSE policies and regulations, so that internationals can access this information as needed.

University community

  1. To encourage a sense of community, The HSE Look, an English supplement to the University bulletin was launched in April 2013 and published 24 issues since – and it’s been supplying the faculty with monthly news about university changes, introducing faculty, research centres and new colleagues. Two international and two local staff members formed its editorial board, in order to provide a committed contribution to the bulletin and develop it as a place of dialogue between local and international faculty.
  2. The wide range of cultural and social events are being organised and supported on the central level: orientation session weeks, intercultural communication workshops, social mixers and cultural events. All events are held in English and open to both locals and internationals. Besides, a special emphasis is put on the fact that all university-wide events (such as HSE Day) have a part of their programme in English.

 Decentralisation

The fastest way to secure a short-term win when adapting university policies and procedures for international purposes was to centralise the support through the newly established IO – it allowed for resources to be used wisely and effectively from the start. But what are some of the long-term risks?

As the number of international faculty and students grows, it becomes gradually impossible to accommodate all the needs at the central level. Centralisation places the mere idea of IaH at risk, as it might lead to segregating the internationals and thus to creating a ‘split university’. It is crucial to maintain a delicate balance between providing adequate conditions for incoming internationals at any given moment, and decentralising the university services. Universities must also include their administrative staff in internationalisation efforts. So what steps did HSE take to achieve this goal? 

  1. It changed its support system for study programmes, providing each with a dedicated manager and making English proficiency one of the requirements for hiring.
  2. Each faculty was required to assign a coordinator for their international hires.
  3. The IO now holds initial training, provides workshops on intercultural communication and shares good practices with managers of study offices.
  4. Dormitory and professors’ guest house staff were included in internationalisation training for the first time.
  5. Central support offices remained in charge of maintaining the standards of service provision and providing ‘troubleshooting’ help the ground to devise solutions for non-standard situations.
  6. A new professional development programme for university administrators was launched under the guidance of the IO: during the course of two years staff members from different office work together on devising and implementing projects which will help HSE meet the challenges of becoming a truly global university.

Higher education at large is becoming increasingly complex and contradictory. Every university faces the demands of the global market and increased competition. As a result, we can’t afford to be reactive. ‘Change’ has become the key word associated with the future of universities. And internationalisation, including the one at home, seems to be the best way to embrace it.

It is probably sensible for universities to stop focusing on the dilemma of introducing top-down or bottom up changes, but rather focus on finding a way to combine both approaches. At HSE, we are still trying to find a flexible and innovative solution – after all that’s what the universities are about, creating and disseminating new knowledge and practice.

Yulia is Director of the Office of Internationalisation at National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia.

EAIE members will receive their copies of Forum on their doorsteps soon, but can already download the full version online. Non-members can view the editor’s pick in the Resources Library.