The new international officer: Who holds the power in internationalisation?

The new international officer: Who holds the power in internationalisation?

Internationalisation is no longer the remit of only a few dedicated internationalisation professionals at higher education institutions, but increasingly so of several internal and external stakeholders. With a multitude of individuals and entities being involved in the process, the question of who is in charge of internationalisation and of steering its future developments emerges. Accompanying the release of Forum magazine on ‘The new international officer’, this blog post looks into the findings of studies on the topic.

In an earlier blog post, Maxine Clarke discussed who should be in charge of internationalisation at higher education institutions – academics or administrators. She argued that since academic quality – as opposed to administrative quality – determines the success and prestige of a university, academics should be in charge of internationalisation. The role of administrators should be that of enablers supporting and implementing the decisions of academics. But does this reflect reality?

Senior institutional leaders

In the 2015 EAIE Barometer: Internationalisation in Europe study, which surveyed 2411 internationalisation professionals in Europe, almost half of respondents indicated that the Board/central management has the main responsibility for internationalisation strategy. Meanwhile, 13% reported that this responsibility is concentrated with an assigned Board member. Only 18% report that the head of the international office is responsible for internationalisation strategy.

A few European countries appear to deviate from this pattern, however, with respondents from Bulgaria, Georgia and Ireland reporting that the head of the international office is the most common instance to hold this responsibility. In the United States, the President or CEO is seen as the most vital instance spurring internationalisation, followed by faculty and the Chief Academic Officer. The senior international officer is only assigned this role according to 12% of the respondents of the 2012 ACE survey, Mapping Internationalisation on US Campuses.

On the global level, a similar pattern emerges, with senior institutional leadership being rated as the instance most commonly in charge of the direction of internationalisation. According to the IAU 4th Global Survey on Internationalisation of Higher Education (2014), the top internal (institutional) driver of internationalisation is the President/rector/vice chancellor/Chief Academic Officer with 46% of the respondents indicating this being the case, followed by the international office as reported by 28% of the respondents. A further 10% of the respondents report that faculty members hold this power.

The questions asked in the three studies are not identical. Yet they all look at influence over internationalisation from a different perspective or where the power in internationalisation rests within the institution. They reinforce the idea that senior institutional leadership is in charge of the developments in internationalisation at the institutional level. Academics, rather than administrators, thus appear to hold the sway in internationalisation.

National and EU policy

Internationalisation is not only influenced by internal actors, but increasingly also by external stakeholders outside higher education institutions. The European Parliament report on internationalisation of higher education predicts that external stakeholders, both private and public, will be more involved in internationalisation of higher education in the future. As our economies and societies continue to globalise, internationalisation provides a useful mechanism to increase competitiveness and knowledge creation.

When asked about the perceived influence of different policy levels, Barometer respondents viewed their own institution as the most powerful influencer. Yet, 41% and 38% saw the national and the EU levels (respectively) as strong influencers on internationalisation. The European respondents of the IAU Global survey ranked government policy, regional policies, and national and international rankings as the top three external drivers of internationalisation. On a global level, government policy is also ranked as the top external influencer, but it is followed by business and industry demand and regional policies only in third place. With the EU’s active role in the education sector, it is hardly surprising that the regional level is seen as more influential in Europe.

From the results of different surveys, senior institutional leadership – rather than international office staff – appears to be in charge of internationalisation and the course it takes at higher education institutions. Beyond the institutions themselves, national policy followed by regional (EU) policy are seen as major influencers on internationalisation policy in Europe.

Anna-Malin is Policy Officer at the EAIE.

The latest issue of the EAIE’s member magazine Forum, on ‘The new international officer’ is hot off the press. EAIE members can access the magazine in full from the Resources corner. Non-members can download the Editor’s pick for free. Become an EAIE member to gain access to quality international education resources like Forum.

Anna-Malin Sandström
EAIE, the NetherlandsAnna-Malin is Policy Officer at the EAIE.