Insights into the European Parliament study

Insights into the European Parliament study

After a contribution from one of the study’s authors and a critical piece on its limitations, the final blog post in this three-part, week-long series on the European Parliament report on Internationalisation of Higher Education provides key observations to take into consideration when reading the report.

This new report investigates internationalisation strategies and practices in Europe and globally, although the main focus is Europe. The aims of the study were defined by the European Parliament (EP) outlined in a tender process, while the authors creatively designed a methodology to answer the pre-determined research questions.

The key developments and recommendations presented in the report give an overall perspective of the trends and areas which need additional resources and attention. Several items stand out in the 326-page report, from the research questions and its methodology to the findings. Reflecting on these items, here are five interesting points worth considering when reading it:

  1. Global Challenges: As Stefan Popenici has already pointed out in his blog post, there is little discussion and emphasis on how global challenges impact internationalisation strategies and practices in the report. These challenges matter in a world that is increasingly interconnected. In the field of internationalisation, this naturally contributes to opening up the world and at the same time is impacted by global phenomena. A recent article in the University World News by Hans de Wit, one of the authors of the report, addresses the ‘rather optimistic’ feel of it in light of global challenges:

“…we cannot ignore the fact that internationalisation of higher education is being challenged by increasingly profound social, economic and cultural issues, such as the financial crisis, unfavourable demographic trends, immigration and ethnic and religious tensions.”

While the report does offer a positive spin on internationalisation efforts, there is great need for intention and reflection on how internationalisation can respond to, and is impacted by, global challenges.

  1. Technology: ‘Digital learning’ is one of the special issues that the EP specified as an area of investigation. How the research question is framed is perhaps the most telling, “To which extent can digital learning and virtual mobility replace traditional forms of student and staff mobility?” Is the point to ‘replace’ physical mobility with digital learning and virtual mobility or to offer different modes of delivery and experiences in a wider portfolio of internationalisation activities and practices? Many in the field would argue that the former is more desirable, but has the potential to create more inequality in higher education. Author of Chapter 3, William Lawton, points out that while digital learning and virtual mobility offer more opportunities,

“…it can also be argued that the institutionalisation of virtual exchange institutionalises a two-tier system of mobility: one for the elite few and another for the 80-90 % who cannot afford it.”

  1. Country reports: The country reports provide snapshots of national systems of higher education, quantitative indicators of internationalisation, and how internationalisation is evolving from supranational, national, and institutional policies. There are a total of 17 country reports, 10 of which are European countries. The original number of countries (nine) was increased to 17 to ensure diversity of country representation.

“…we extended the number of European countries from six to 10 (including one non-EU country, Norway) to reflect the diversity of higher education and its internationalisation within Europe, and the number of non-European countries from three to seven, to reflect the diversity across different continents.”

France, Germany, and the UK were selected as the ‘big three’, as they have the greatest number of international students and are leaders in transnational education efforts. Two Scandinavian countries were selected, Norway (non-EU) and Finland. The Netherlands was selected as a small Western European country. Spain and Italy were selected as Southern European countries while Poland and Romania represent Central and Eastern European countries.

The seven non-European countries selected cover all continents and include the usual suspects and a few new ones in comparative research on this topic. Reports on Australia, Canada, Colombia, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa and the USA provide insight into the different internationalisation landscape around the globe. Perhaps most interesting are the countries not included in the report. Most curiously an entire special section is dedicated to explaining why the BRICs countries, except South Africa, are not included. So, the question surfaces would the results show differently if the report included more countries, ones with large as well as small levels of internationalisation? The selective representation chosen for this report has to be understood as it does not reflect the complete picture of what is occurring in internationalisation globally nor in Europe.

  1. Connection with other reports: Chapter two brings in findings from two recent signature studies offering institutional and practitioner perspectives in the field of international education. Data from the IAU 4th Global Survey on Internationalisation of Higher Education and EAIE Barometer: Internationalisation in Europe are used to tell a more cohesive story of the benefits, drivers, values, risks, challenges, and priorities of internationalisation in Europe. As internationalisation of higher education efforts continue to grow, more studies and reports highlighting the trends and developments in the field are being published.

Two other reports worth noting, published after this report, include the EUA Trends 2015: Learning and Teaching in European Universities and the University of Oxford International Trends in Higher Education 2015. Bringing these reports together highlights significant differences between the studies. This may be attributable to the respondents coming from different positions in international higher education and thus resulting in diverse perspectives and findings. In short, there are more reports offering more information from the macro, big-picture level than ever before in international higher education.

  1. Evaluation of internationalisation: In Chapter 1, this topic emerges with the overarching topic of influences and interests. The focus clearly centres on rankings and league tables and how national systems (as well as institutions) continually develop instruments and assessment tools to measure internationalisation efforts. Ranking and league tables aside, this is a hot topic – especially with the greater emphasis on output-based indicators. The end of the report concludes by highlighting the increase in quantitative indicators and where there is insufficient data available.

Overall, this study paints of picture of the developments in international education and leaves the reader with a bird’s eye view of the field. It’s worth the read!

Leasa is Knowledge Development Adviser at the EAIE.

The European Parliament study was carried out by Hans de Wit and Fiona Hunter of the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy, Eva Egron-Polak of the International University Association, and EAIE President Laura Howard. It is available for download.

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