The evolving culture of measuring internationalisation

The evolving culture of measuring internationalisation

Internationalisation of higher education continues to progress and become more embedded within higher education institutions. Measuring the process and activities is seen as a way to improve practices and ensure more comprehensive offerings. Many initiatives, both at the European and international level, have been developing ways to do this. This blog post outlines some of these initiatives – and provides practical advice for measuring internationalisation at your home institution!

In 2010, a European project, Indicators for Mapping & Profiling Internationalisation (IMPI), investigated instruments measuring internationalisation. This resulted in an indicator list. In a project report, Brandenburg and colleagues categorise measuring internationalisation into three key areas:

  1. Mapping: knowing where your organisation stands in terms of internationalisation
  2. Evaluating: examining the value of the internationalisation efforts
  3. Profiling: Setting an organisational identity

Since 2010, the activity, instruments, and development in this area have evolved. Below are two examples of programmes created to measure internationalisation – each built and designed with the aim of improving the practices and offerings by setting strategic goals and implementation actions.

The German Rector’s Conference

The German Rector’s Conference (HRK) Audit: Internationalisation of Universities, taking place at the national level, is not an accreditation. Rather, it is a quality review tool to help German institutions assess and develop internationalisation. In 2009, the audit began as a pilot wherein six institutions were assessed. After the first year, 12 institutions have been audited every year. The audit is jointly funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the auditing higher education institution. The audit is based on three main philosophies:

  1. Self-improvement: self-reflection and peer-review feedback on specific internationalisation measures and practices.
  • Identification of internationalisation goals and practices
  • Further development of an international strategy
  1. Holistic approach: audits the entire university and all its international activities
  1. Tailored audit: based on the actual needs and context of the institution. The audit is suitable for all institutions and all levels of internationalisation. The indicators measure the following internationalisation areas:
  • ‘Planning & Steering’ focuses on the management and organisation of internationalisation from the central administration department through to the academic departments
  • ‘Study & Teaching’ includes the internationalisation of study programmes as well as the teaching and learning environment
  • ‘Research & Technology’ concerns the internationalisation of research and the application of research results.
  • ‘Advice & Support’ encompasses the internationalisation of administrative structure across the institution.

In 2012, the HRK Audit introduced a re-audit, which is available to all institutions who participated. Its main aim is to help institutions implement the actions and goals set out by the original audit – ie a mid-term implementation plan.

International Association of Universities (IAU)

The International Association of Universities (IAU) created Internationalization Strategy Advisory Services (ISAS) in 2010 “to help HEIs develop or review their internationalization policies, strategies and programs”. In 2016, a new programme, ISAS (2.0), was launched. It builds on the original programme by catering to a more diverse audience and offering learning badges to the select institutions participating in the services.
One of their services specifically aims to advance strategic internationalisation at institutions. It “is a multi-facetted set of initiatives that aims to help higher education institutions plan, create, implement, monitor, review and/or evaluate their internationalization strategies and achievements”. There are four separate strands of service that are independent of one another. Each institution decides which strand is most appropriate for their individual development and context. These are:

  1. Planning and strategy
  2. Assessing strategy and monitoring achievements
  3. Enhancing a specific area of internationalisation
  4. Achieving comprehensive internationalisation

Each strand service is funded by the participating institution, via sliding scale fees. External experts from different world regions comprise the panel of experts who lead each individual evaluation.

Know before you measure

Measuring internationalisation is complex, because no one size fits all. As the examples illustrate, customised and tailored approaches are designed to fit the local context of the institution. The local context includes national policies, funding formulas, language, history and culture, as well as the maturity of internationalisation. These need to be taken into consideration. If your institution is considering embarking upon this journey, it is important to reflect on the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of measuring? How will the findings be used?
  • Is it a self-reflective activity to improve institutional internationalisation? (evaluation)
  • Is it for benchmarking purposes – to see where your institution stands compared to other institutions? (mapping)
  • Is it to help profile your institution via a specific classification or ranking?
  1. What should be measured?
  • Are internationalisation processes or activities being measured – or both?
  1. What are the indicators?
  • Indicators are observable or measurable variables. They are used as signs of progress in achieving goals.
  • There are a variety of indicators that may be used, some are easier to access than others:
    • Inputs (eg number of staff, money allocated, etc)
    • Outputs (eg number of international students and staff, etc)
    • Outcomes (ie changes in the institution resulting from the outputs)
    • Impact (ie long-term institutional changes)
    • Process (eg number of staff trained in intercultural skills, etc)

For a list of indicators, refer to the IMPI toolbox.

  1. How should the indicators be measured?
  • Internal and/or external experts
  • Stakeholder evaluations
  • Peer-review
  1. What data should be collected? And how?
  • Surveys/questionnaires
  • Institutional data
  • External expert visits
  • Peer reviews
  • Interviews, focus groups or observation

Leasa is Knowledge Development Adviser at the EAIE.

Leasa Weimer
EAIE, the NetherlandsLeasa is Senior Adviser for Knowledge Initiatives for the EAIE.