Key skills revealed for future leaders of international education

Key skills revealed for future leaders of international education

Aspiring international education leaders face the challenge of working in a constantly changing environment. The funding opportunities available, government visa regulations, key student markets and education delivery formats are undergoing change at an ever increasing rate. A recent study on the challenges faced by leaders in the field has revealed the key obstacles and pressing needs for those at the forefront of driving the internationalisation of higher education into a new age.

The final report from the joint European-Australian study ‘Leadership Needs in International Higher Education in Australia and Europe’, conducted by the EAIE and the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) highlights the essential capabilities needed by international education leaders in Europe and Australia in light of the challenges they face. Despite certain differences between the two continents, mostly attributed to the different realities they operate in, the constantly changing international environment, together with the mainstreaming of international education and the related pressing need to improve cooperation between academics and administrators, were key issues highlighted by leaders in both regions.

Leaders as change agents of internationalisation

Even though outside developments such as the global economic climate have an influence on international education, prominent leaders in the field have been equally affecting change in their departments, institutions and even on a national and global level. According to Dennis Murray, IEAA Research Director and one of the co-authors of the study, “International education leaders and managers are not passive recipients of internationalisation. They have the capacity to be active agents leading and influencing the directions internationalisation will take. The skills required are subtle, complex and intertwined.” The mainstreaming of internationalisation magnifies their influence, but as a result, the qualities needed to succeed are changing.

Ability to unite academics and administrators is crucial

One of the biggest growing challenges identified both by senior education leaders in Australia and Europe was how to improve cooperation between academics and administrators. Traditionally these two groups within the institution come from very different professional cultures and have often worked in silos. With the mainstreaming of internationalisation, efficient and successful strategies require ever closer cooperation between the two. To overcome these challenges, brokering and relationship building capabilities as well as communication skills were seen as essential attributes for leaders to develop.

Tailored professional development opportunities are vital

The changing role of international education leaders and their related capability needs require professional development opportunities tailored to the different levels of leadership (managerial, directorial and executive). The EAIE and IEAA hope to provide institutions and professionals alike with concrete suggestions on how to overcome these challenges and be more successful in implementing internationalisation. “This important research on leadership needs provides the EAIE as well as international education leaders and their respective institutions crucial insights into their professional development needs.” Hans-Georg van Liempd, EAIE President and one of the co-authors of the study, explains.

In practice, joint training for academics and administrators was seen as key by Australian and European leaders alike to improving the collaboration between the two professional groups. Peer learning, mentoring and coaching as well as short training to improve specific skills were put forward as suggestions for professional development. This could be achieved through joint international training initiatives. All groups were deemed to have a need for developing increased innovation and entrepreneurial skills to be able to work optimally in the constantly changing field of international education.

View a more detailed overview of the roles and capabilities required from successful international education leaders and the related professional development needed on the EAIE website.  

» Download the recent IEAA press release regarding the study.