The lifecycle of international offices

The lifecycle of international offices

As Executive Director of the EAIE, I often have the chance to speak to professionals in higher education about the issues they face. I find myself in a privileged position because I have worked for 25 years in the field. Since I became Director I have gained a much broader perspective on higher education, with many opportunities to hear stories and observe what is going on. I also like to follow the discussions that are taking place on LinkedIn. This new EAIE blog gives me, and others, the opportunity to share observations and to receive your comments and feedback. 

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the best way to structure international activities within an institution. Is centralised better than decentralised? Does the answer to that question depend on the phase of internationalisation an institution finds itself in? If decentralised, should there still be a central strategic unit? What are the pros and cons?

It is interesting to see how many colleagues seem to have strong opinions about this, based on their own experiences. Having been actively involved in reorganisation processes a few times, I have found that the choices a university makes are not fully based on rational reasoning, but often the result of new leaders having their own agenda. I strongly support the idea that an institution needs new views and perspectives on a regular basis and that change can be extremely healthy. I do, however, doubt that organisational change is often driven by well researched and objective criteria. In order to do so, a clear set of goals and proven ways to achieve those goals in certain historical and cultural settings should be available. To my knowledge there are not any. So very often, institutions start copying each other without knowing if a successful operation in one institution is the most effective option for use in another. Or, they just rationalise their choices by saying that in this phase of development we better do things this way. Often, I have found that changes are meant to shake up the organisation and get rid of people who are (rightly or wrongly) perceived as hindrances to the new setup or simply belonging to the old reign of a predecessor. In such situations I have two recommendations.

For the leaders

A true leader should be happy when he/she can say: “I did what I believed was best to further the organisation: I did my thing and contributed my part.”

For international officers

Your own professional life cycle, or expiration date, can come to a sudden end when things that you have been carefully building up over the years are being changed without any good reason. When this happens, it is time to use your knowledge, skills and experience in a new setting.

Do you have any good examples of changes in the set-up of the international operations at institutions that were firmly grounded on analysis and rational choices? Please do share them with us along with your thoughts on this issue by posting your comments below.  EAIE members can download Leonard Engel’s entire article which appeared in Spring Forum, by logging on to the Member Centre on the EAIE website and visiting the Library.