Opening doors: development teams for international higher education

Opening doors: development teams for international higher education

How can higher education support internationalisation and produce graduates prepared to solve the complex challenges of today’s society? Challenges that include access and opportunity, cross-cultural skills development, diversity and inclusion, and a rapidly growing global population. International philanthropy teams offer higher education the network to influence sustainable and holistic internationalisation. Today’s blog makes the case, including real-life examples, for one potential solution.

Consider the following statements that set the stage for international philanthropy in higher education:

  • As the population grows and global economy becomes even more interconnected, cross-cultural skills, both inter-personally and professionally, as well as cultural awareness become essential competencies in the workplace.
  • Higher education institutions (HEIs) provide a vibrant and intentional space to nurture internationalism in creative and effective ways.
  • Solutions to current complex global challenges require collaboration from all sectors: education, business, government, community.
  • Access to international education and creating culturally inclusive campuses requires funding for diverse faculty, research, scholarship and innovative programming.
  • Tuition, endowment and government subsidies aren’t enough.

Internationalisation of higher education requires money

Fundraisers develop a network of supporters through relationship building; though a gift is often the end result of a meaningful relationship, when you explore the benefits of a well-established, academically connected development team, the rewards go far beyond funding.
Fundraisers ‘sell’ the institution to would-be investors/donors, they speak to the merits of the organisation and its effectiveness at providing an outstanding education. This is only a tiny (though tremendously important) part of their job. Fundraisers build relationships; they connect people and organisations in powerful ways. These relationships – often supplemented with philanthropic gifts – can be catalysts for sustainable internationalisation.

Real relationships contain powerful opportunities

Prospective student, Lina, a 17-year-old in Shanghai, is considering where she wants to attend university. Lina’s father, who speaks Mandarin, English and French, is the general manager of a multinational securities brokerage, headquartered in Shanghai. Her mother is partner at a law firm.

Lina is considering a small liberal arts school in the US after meeting Elizabeth, an admissions officer from the school, at a university fair in Shanghai. Elizabeth explained that although the campus is small, 11% of students are international and half of international students are Chinese. The campus is proud of its diverse population and offers robust international student programming. The international student services office goes far beyond visa application assistance, offering international students their own cultural, community and academic ‘board of directors’ comprising of domestic students, cultural staff advisers and academic guides that speak in the student’s native language.

A year and a half later, Lina has been accepted to the school; She and her parents are attending a new student reception, where Lina’s father meets David, a development officer from the university. Lina is particularly interested in sustainable architecture and David promises to stay in touch as Lina progresses through her first year, serving as a point person for addressing any challenges and connecting her with the campus employer relations team who will help with internships.

During Lina’s senior year, she works with the international student services team and the employer relations team to land an internship, complete with a US research visa. Throughout the process, Lina’s father has heard from David about the need for scholarship to help other Chinese students attend the university. The family decides to endow a scholarship for Chinese students of merit with an interest in sustainable architecture.

Later, when Lina’s father sees a CV come across his desk with his daughter’s alma mater in the education section, having been impressed with the quality of academics and cross-cultural skills honed on the campus, he calls the recent graduate for an interview. This story could go on to talk about Lina’s inclination to donate to the school or to fund outstanding faculty research. It could discuss Lina’s father’s company establishing a matching gift policy as, over time, the company hires more graduates.

Though this may sound like a philanthropic fairy tale, this story is a compilation of real events witnessed in development offices as a result of authentic cultivation of human relationships. The outcomes (donations, networks, career opportunities, access to education) are a direct result of the cumulative strength of this complex web of relationships.

Forming relationships with intention

Continued internationalisation in HEIs depends on universities intentionally growing diversity, cross-cultural skills development and cultivating international person-to-person relationships. This type of international development takes diligence, flexibility and continued learning and awareness of cultural differences, personally and in business. The hard work pays off in huge rewards, realised in philanthropic giving and sustainable internationalisation built on relationships.

Building an international development team

  1. Increase awareness: invite internationally-focused campus departments to offer trainings on supporting and growing cross-cultural awareness including funding needs.
  2. Build a diverse team: office diversity organically fosters cross-cultural awareness and inclusivity.
  3. Build a diverse board of directors/trustees: a collectively cross-cultural lens leads to internationally supportive vision, strategy, funding and programming.
  4. Create a specific international development plan.
    • Hire specifically internationally-focused development staff to liaise with campus partners and prospect internationally.
    • Utilise technology and social media to cross geographic barriers.
    • Coordinate with campus partners, utilise faculty and administrators already traveling to cultivate new international relationships, and maintain an international calendar to share relevant events/travel.
  5. Include students, faculty and staff in the inception and growth of the university’s international plan. As the population becomes more diverse and evolves, so must strategy and implementation.

Building and maintaining international relationships, one at a time, contributes to cultural awareness, increases equitable access to education, and builds powerful links that bridge people, cultures and organisations. International philanthropy offers tremendous opportunity for higher education to have substantial impact in the nature and trajectory of internationalisation.
Crissey Hewitt is an international philanthropy specialist and an MBA candidate at the University of Bath.