Internationalisation with integrity: modelling a new approach

Internationalisation with integrity: modelling a new approach

The field of internationalisation of higher education (IHE) is in an incredibly valuable, yet mostly under-appreciated, under-paid and overwhelmed profession. So, why are we here? This question has been posed to countless colleagues over the years, and the most common answer comes down to a beautiful hope: that education, particularly an internationalised education, will equip future leaders for the global community, empowering them to create a reality better than the one in which we currently exist.

Indeed, the roots of IHE are drawn from this hope. Particularly after World War II, establishing global connectivity for students and academics became an avenue for diplomacy and, through R&D linkages, for innovation. With the end of the Cold War and the introduction of the internet, IHE slowly grew into an institutional imperative; and—in parallel—the ‘shape’ of IHE began to diversify, along with a growing recognition of its potential beyond ‘world peace’.

The 1995 General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) designation of higher education as a tradable ‘commodity’ was a poignant indicator of the paradigm shift. As IHE developed and diversified, so did the institution’s perception of its value, and its income potential.

As a result, the most important societal challenge universities all over the world now face is the transformation towards a commercialised, mass higher education system, where the emergence of a global knowledge economy is an indicator of national strength and competitiveness.

Along with viewing education as a commodity, the field also often views students as consumers and educators as service providers. Institutions have shifted from offering access to locally unavailable programmes to a race for access to ‘clients’ and the best brains worldwide. We can visualise these dynamics as follows:

In addition to the economic and institutional demands discussed above, the mad rush for internationalisation manifests in certain traps that all of us and our programming are susceptible to.  Jane Knight, Uwe Brandenburg and Hans de Wit, among others, have spoken of these traps in many of their existing literature.

From Brandenburg and de Wit (2011), “Internationalization has become a synonym of ‘doing good’, and people are less into questioning its effectiveness and essential nature: an instrument to improve the quality of education or research… Today activities more related to the concept of globalization (higher education as a tradable commodity) are increasingly  executed under the flag of internationalization…We have to understand internationalization and globalization in their pure meanings—not as goals in themselves but rather as means to an end.”

These various dynamics culminate in inconsistencies in IHE strategy and execution. Though we may all want to still be pursuing ‘world peace’, oftentimes our programming ends up having commodity-driven dynamics. Yet, the fact that different dynamics exist is not the challenge.  Rather, it is often that we fail to clarify/communicate these distinctions to ourselves and our stakeholders. Therefore, we end up in a muddled space, where Jane Knight’s Five Myths (2011) become increasingly prevalent in the field and where ‘form’ becomes paramount to real substance (Brandenburg and de Wit, 2011).

Thus, the proposition of ‘integrity in internationalisation’ is not to support one paradigm over another, or to argue that we have ‘lost our way’.  Here, we suggest introducing a mindfulness and clarity to our work—integrity—where ‘integrity’ is defined as consistency among the following four components:

Integrity, then, is not an ethical statement per se, but a mindfulness throughout the entire process of a given IHE activity. Integrity is a lens through which we plan, execute and measure our IHE goals.

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In application, we can ground this concept on three levels: programme, partnership and institutional level.

At the programming level, suppose your university has decided to pay closer attention to recruiting marginalised students to study abroad programmes—where ‘marginalised’ captures LGBT students, ethnic minorities, and students with disabilities. With this goal in mind, we suggest that the integrity lens involves creating changes at each level of programme execution, to reflect consistency in our work with the marginalised student population. Oftentimes, we work to attract marginalised students in the outreach phase, but what about after they sign up?  An integrity-based approach to achieving this goal would suggest introducing new aspects to all of the following phases:

Indeed, behind the goal of attracting marginalised students is another, more significant goal: ensuring that marginalised students have the same privilege and quality of international experience as their peers. To ensure this outcome, however, changes would need to be made in how you advise these students, how you prepare them, how you monitor them, and how you measure them upon return. Integrity, then, is about creating this consistency throughout the study abroad repertoire, making changes at each stage to address the special needs of this population.

At the partnership level, integrity in internationalisation must be paramount. How many of you intrinsically know what I mean by the ‘dusty MoU syndrome’? Even though it is not a real term, our constant awareness of the pile of promises we have made to one another, yet haven’t had the chance to fulfil, probably makes most of you automatically connect to this idea. Integrity, in the context of partnerships, therefore, is ultimately about clearing the dust, returning to promises to see which ones are feasible, eliminating those that are not, and ensuring that new promises align with consistency among the following:

With growing pressures to recruit students internationally, alongside pressures to generate revenue and align with high-rankers, many engage in dialogue with potential partners to serve these ends; and that is completely fine. However, the problem we have observed in our experience is the failure to be transparent about these aims. Therefore, from the beginning, the integrity lens also involves a dedication to clarity of thought, purpose and dialogue in the process.

One way of looking at integrity from the perspective of the institution is to consider where this construct intersects with the core work of the institution in relationship to the external partners and the internal constituents, including the community in which the university exists.

We work in an international environment and embrace different opinions, values and norms. Yet, this open-mindedness must intersect with demands from the institution and all its stakeholders. For example, the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, which was passed by the Parliament of Uganda on 20 December 2013, was signed into law by the President of Uganda on 24 February 2014. Because of the decision of the president, one European university dropped its connection with Uganda—it had been accrediting courses at a private university in the country. By doing so, it made a clear statement on the anti-homosexuality act, but at the same time it excluded itself and its students in debating homosexuality in the classroom.

Indeed, at the institutional level, questions around integrity in internationalisation must involve dialogue among faculty, administrators and students, as the ‘rightness’ of decisions may always live in a grey area. However, integrity can be maintained, as long as decisions reflect a consistent perspective among the following:

Ultimately, the lens of ‘integrity in internationalisation’ is self-evident and self-explanatory. The purpose of our efforts is to insist that this lens be paramount to others, that we bring transparency and consistency to our work, to improve outcomes and to honour those that we are in relationship with. Our field is rooted in strong collaboration and precision in execution; and all of us face financial pressures and stakeholders with other priorities.

None of this has to change to introduce integrity. Integrity is about how you articulate and reflect on things, to yourself and to your stakeholders. It is about insisting that the potential of a good idea manifests in strong outcomes, measured by markers borne from the idea itself. Integrity in internationalisation, therefore, is our collective effort to make sure that we keep our ‘eye on the prize’, a better education for our students and a better future for all of us, while also making sure we satisfy the bottom line.

By Ayşe İnan, The Suna and Inan Kirac Foundation; David Wick, Santa Clara University, California, USA; Hans-Georg van Liempd, President of EAIE, the Netherlands; Mae Fastner, Graduate Research Intern


United Nations Global Compact: for HE institutions

UN Principles for Responsible Management Education

International Student Mobility Charter

Corporate Social Responsibility

Code of Conduct for HE institutions in the Netherlands

Code of Conduct Tilburg University


De Wit, H; Knight, J. (1995). Strategies for internationalization of higher education: historical and conceptual perspectives. In: De Wit, H. (Ed.) Strategies for Internationalisation: a comparative study of Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States of America. Amsterdam: The EAIE.

De Wit, H; Brandenburg, U. (2011). The End of Internationalization. International Higher Education, 62, pp. 15–17.

Hudzik J. K. (2011). A Changing Global Context  for International Education: Paradigm Shift or Marginal Adjustment? Comprehensive Internationalization as a Response. Presentation at the AIEC Annual Conference October 2011 Adelaide.

Knight, J. (2011). Five Myths about Internationalization. International Higher Education, 62, pp. 14–15.

Van Damme, D. (2001). Quality issues in the internationalization of higher education. Higher Education, 41, pp. 415–441. Retrieved on 07-08-2013 from

Verhofen, J. D. (2004). Internationalization and commercialization of higher education in an era of globalization. Second International Academic workshop: Shenyang Educational systems in Asia and Europe.