Four trends impacting internationalisation in 2018

Four trends impacting internationalisation in 2018

Internationalisation remains a broad process, one that is understood and acted upon differently in different countries, regions, universities and even individual professional roles within universities. The same principle holds true when we take stock of developments in the field over the past year: what is centrally important to one institution, in their national context, may not be relevant to another.

That said, while our field is far too diverse for sweeping generalisations about the ‘most important’ trends, I would like to highlight some of the developments that have stood out most to me this year, and which can be instructive for our thinking and our approaches to the internationalisation of higher education going forward.

Continuing challenges to academic freedom

It seems to me that more than ever before, the ability for academics, practitioners and their institutions to operate freely, without undue external political interferences or biases, has been regularly challenged in 2018. Despite Rector and President Michael Ignatieff’s fight to defend academic freedom at Central European University (for which he was recognised by the EAIE with this year’s Constance Meldrum Award), the Hungarian government’s higher education reforms is forcing CEU to relocate to Austria. From the British PhD researcher who was jailed in the United Arab Emirates for ‘spying’ whilst undertaking research in the country, to academics in Turkey losing their jobs and being charged with criminal offences for signing a peace petition, the challenges to academic freedom have been numerous and frequent. Initiatives such as statements from national Rectors’ conferences or roundtable discussions like the one recently hosted by the European Parliament are needed much more.

Developing European Universities

Towards the end of this year, the Erasmus+ programme issued a call for consortia of universities to propose the development of 'European Universities’. Endorsed by the Council of Ministers and the EU heads of state and government, and supported by 30 million euros of funding in its pilot phase, the European Universities initiative, originally proposed by French president Emanuel Macron, envisages to build up lighthouse projects in consortia to make the European Higher Education area more competitive. Many rumours have circulated so far about it and the results of the first preparatory phase in this competition will be watched very carefully.

Debates around the role of English

The long-standing dominance of English in the world of international higher education is now both better understood and more frequently questioned.

English has long been the lingua franca of international higher education sector (as with many other sectors). The numbers of institutions offering courses taught in English have increased drastically. Those who have not followed that trend are facing disadvantages in the increasingly competitive international arena. What is new, however, is that the dominance of English as lingua academia and its influence has been more frequently deliberated – even by stakeholders who have historically been supportive of this trend.

Wasn’t it interesting, when the Rector Magnificus of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Professor Karen IJ Maex, questioned whether a university in a non-English speaking country offering many courses in English was in danger of becoming "alienated from its surroundings”? Years ago the UvA was used as a best practice when offering a significant number of new English-taught programmes at the university. The spin-off discussions that followed Prof Maex’s statement included the over-representation of international students’ interests above those of home students, the detrimental knock-on effect on local languages, shortage of accommodation options and questioning the value of internationalisation more generally.

Indeed, at the same time, a government agreement in Denmark to reduce the numbers of international students in the country by 1000 is having negative consequences, as a number of master’s degree programmes taught in English have been forced to close.

Shifting mobility patterns

The international education landscape is changing, particularly with regard to international students and study abroad. For example, influenced by a range of socio-political factors, growth in international students enrolling in the United States is at its lowest rate since 9/11, while in South Korea numbers of international students have grown by close to 19% in just one year. China, traditionally a key source of international students for other countries, is becoming better regarded as a higher education destination, and is now behind only the US and the UK in terms of numbers of international students. Furthermore, other recent studies have shown that Australia, Canada and France are now increasingly being regarded as more important and attractive study abroad destinations for students that the US, UK and Germany.

It is clear that changes are taking place. The recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings have shown that other changes are taking place in other aspects of the sector too – Japan has now overtaken the UK as the second most represented country, and the number of highly-ranked Chinese institutions continues to increase.

A bright future ahead

Amidst all the challenges we face are also many reasons to believe in a bright future for internationalisation. For example, as highlighted at the recent EAIE Spotlight Seminar on internationalisation at home, there are interesting and successful projects taking place at institutions around the world that are linking international students to interact with and learn from each other online. The Bologna ministerial conference in Paris in May has led to a new political momentum and impetus to take the process forward to the next stages. And the European Commission has adopted its proposal to double the budget for the Erasmus programme in the period 2021–2027 to €30 billion.

At the EAIE’s 30th Annual Conference and Exhibition in Geneva, we were proudly able to present the publication of the largest and most comprehensive study on the state of internationalisation in Europe: our second edition of the EAIE Barometer. This free resource is the embodiment of our continued commitment to responsible internationalisation based on facts and evidence.

One of the most interesting findings of the second edition of the EAIE Barometer, especially given the particular challenges of our times, is how positive respondents were about the future. In total, 81% if the 2317 respondents stated that they were either positive or very positive about the future of internationalisation. This is certainly very encouraging, and is clear that despite all the challenges, there is still much for us to be positive about – and not only during this time of the year!

The future certainly looks bright, and EAIE will be there to inform and influence the field at every step going forward.

Sabine Pendl
University of Graz, AustriaSabine Pendl is President of the European Association for International Education (EAIE) and Director of the Office of International Relations at the University of Graz, Austria.