International higher education in 2016: the year in review

International higher education in 2016: the year in review

What a year 2016 has been! While the political and global environment that we operate in changes around us, our role in international education becomes even more important. As the year comes to an end, it’s timely to reflect on the hot topics and current events that have shaped our work in the internationalisation of higher education.

Deep divides shook up the world of politics, creating potential radical changes for the future. The Brexit vote passed in the UK, bringing into question many internationalisation processes and practices related to immigration and the relationship and cooperation with the European Union. It was also a vote that indicated a sea of change, as growing sentiments of anti-globalisation, nationalism and Euroscepticism shape the European polity. UK universities now find themselves operating in a new political reality, yet working hard to maintain the principal #weareinternational. Across the Atlantic Ocean, Donald Trump, described as a populist demagogue driving national isolationism, was elected president of the United States. His stance on Mexican migrants and the Muslim population present xenophobic narratives that have the potential to negatively impact the international student market in the US.

Internationalisation at home

How can domestic students, staff, and professors experience an international and intercultural dimension at their home campus? As we experience a rise in nationalism and nativism, internationalisation at home becomes even more strategic and necessary. The 2015 Winter Forum focused in on this topic by looking back over the past 15 years as the concept and process has evolved which also set the stage for a greater effort and awareness in 2016.

Migrant crisis

Due to European border closures and the EU deal with Turkey the migrant crisis did not reach the record number of migrants entering in 2015. However, the record number of asylum seekers in Europe continued to impact national integration efforts with higher education being implicated in this task. In many European higher education institutions, international offices took the lead or were coordinating aspects related to the recognition of qualifications, admissions, language development and counselling and guidance for refugee students. The EAIE offered a Spotlight Seminar in June on the integration of refugees creating a forum for practitioners to discuss and exchange first-response efforts. Following this, a special programme track at the Annual Conference in Liverpool highlighted best practices.

Making EU more attractive: visa liberation

As some European borders were closing to refugees and the UK immigration policies were in question, the EU passed new legislation for the liberation of non-EU student and researcher visa regulations. The new rules streamline the processes and make it more attractive for non-EU students and scholars to contribute to the European knowledge economy by offering longer stays, more ability to move within Europe, and family benefits.

2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In 2016, the United Nations created an ambitious global development agenda to foster a sustainable world and eradicate poverty by 2030. Education is included in one of the 17 goals and there are specific ways that the global higher education community can contribute to the goals. This year, one of the articles in the 2016 EAIE Conference Conversation Starter focused specifically on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. In 2017, the EAIE will be working much more intensively on this topic encouraging more discussion and action. The 2017 Winter Forum will be fully dedicated to SDGs.

Conflicted world

Terrorist attacks hit the Brussels airport in March and the city of Nice, France in July, putting Europe once again on high alert. These incidents prompted international education practitioners to discuss and develop practices for emergency planning, crisis management, and student safety. The 2016 Spring issue of Forum magazine addressed ‘Internationalisation in a conflicted world’ through various lenses.

Data, measurement, and rankings

Data analytics, infographics, and quantitative assessment continue to shape the technological world we live in. The 2016 Summer Forum addressed the theme ‘Data in international education’, including topical essays focused on evidence-based internationalisation, Erasmus+ data, and targeted data collection.

Measurement of internationalisation practices, processes, and outcomes continues to be on the minds of many practitioners as we are tasked with influencing institutional leaders and strategy. Love them or hate them, university rankings continue to endure as a way to monitor institutional performance in the global higher education market. Every year we see new rankings measuring different institutional dimensions, including internationalisation performance.

Looking forward

Amid the challenges of 2016, we come away with possibilities, new realities, and opportunities for 2017. It seems that the closing of borders and increasing nationalist sentiments will make our work even more challenging. And perhaps they will, but maybe we are in a moment where the field of internationalisation needs a little shaking up. In 2017, we will need to be more strategic, we will need to be better at making a case for internationalisation, and we will need to become more inclusive in our domestic and international offerings to encourage intercultural experiences for a wider audience. In the lyrical words of the late David Bowie, “We can be heroes”.
Leasa is Knowledge Development Adviser at the EAIE.

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