What's your internationalisation focus for 2015?

What's your internationalisation focus for 2015?

As we look ahead to a new year full of fresh opportunities and exciting potential, EAIE President Laura Howard shares some expert insights into what she believes will be the main trends pushing the internationalisation agenda over the coming 12 months. Now might be a good time for international officers to work on your communication plans for 2015 if you haven’t already done so….!

After decades of growth and innovation in the field of international education, we can quite comfortably say that internationalisation of higher education is inherently a good thing. There is a clear consensus, shown through surveys carried out by the International Association of Universities, the European University Association and from the new EAIE Barometer, that the main benefits of internationalisation are improvement in the quality of teaching and learning, and preparing students to live and work in a globalised world. However, while these benefits may be clear to some institutional leaders and practitioners working directly in the day-to-day business of international higher education, it seems we’re not so good at communicating this to the rest of the stakeholders involved. For example, for a long time, we’ve been more interested in communicating the quantity (mobility figures have been one of our obsessions) than the quality of what is achieved with this mobility. In 2015, I expect that we’ll see more emphasis placed on communication –  communicating with our key stakeholders.

Communicating with employers

Employability is a major issue in Europe in the current economic climate, with some countries suffering from particularly high unemployment rates. Internationalisation brings benefits to employability. It has an impact on transversal skills that employers value, such as curiosity, ability to solve problems, resilience, teamwork and openness. The Erasmus Impact Study published earlier this year by the EU has gone some way to communicating this, but 2015 will see more being done to collate evidence, to provide proof of how internationalisation helps students develop these skills, how learning outcomes beyond intercultural competence and international awareness are enhanced through a more internationalised education.

Communication is a two-way street and in the coming year I believe we will see an increase in the formation of partnerships with employers to ensure that the match between their expectations and the abilities of our graduates are as closely aligned as possible.

Communicating with students

The success of our students is our success, and 2015 should see more being done to show students the benefits of an international education. For example, it is becoming clearer that simply organising international mobility is not enough – we have to do more to support students adequately before, during and after the mobility period, and an important part of that is helping them communicate to prospective employers the skills they have gained as a result of that international experience.

When talking about communication, I would also like to mention how we communicate, as I believe this is also an area where change will occur. In many cases, we are not keeping up with technological developments and are still communicating with our students in ways which they don’t find appealing. In 2015 there will be an increased effort to keep up with the digital revolution and use it to improve not only the quality of the teaching-learning process but also to ensure we communicate with our students using methods that are relevant to them, and which, incidentally, they will more often than not find in the workplace once they complete their education.

Communicating with staff

While staff in the international office are obviously already on board, I believe more will be done to ensure the engagement of support staff from other areas of the institution, and in particular, of academic staff. An institution’s internationalisation strategy can only be successful if everyone, from top to bottom, is rowing in the same direction – having engaged staff at all levels is fundamental. If the benefits of internationalisation are not sufficiently communicated, if staff have other priorities, then little progress will be made towards our goals. Staff training plays an important role here. More will be done, for example, to give academics the skills they need to manage a culturally diverse classroom. And this, of course, feeds into our students’ success in attaining the desired learning outcomes of internationalisation. These outcomes must be formulated and embedded into the degree programmes we offer – internationalisation of the curriculum is essential if we are to offer the 80% of non-mobile students the chance to gain some of these skills.

The non-mobile majority

In 2015, I believe (or if you prefer, I hope/wish) that more attention will be paid to the needs of the vast majority of our students who, for whatever reason, will not be able to spend a period of study or work experience abroad. Ensuring an international, intercultural experience for all our students – or at least providing them with the opportunity to achieve some of the learning outcomes such an experience can offer them – becomes much more feasible in a context where virtual exchange is available, where technology is employed to enhance traditional forms of teaching and learning, and where an internationalised curriculum is taught to a multicultural body of students. To achieve this requires investment in time, funds and training – and excellent communication with all those involved in the process. Let’s make 2015 the year of improved communication.