Studying international education: all you need to know

Studying international education: all you need to know

With the growth and maturing of international higher education, internationalisation is increasingly considered a deliberate career choice. Consequently, degree programmes specialising in international education management and administration are offered by several institutions. Are you considering embarking on a career in the field? Or do you perhaps feel that after a few years in your job you require further education rather than a few professional development modules to succeed or advance in your role? This blog post looks into the degree programmes on offer in international education administration in Europe.

In Europe, it is common for practitioners working in international higher education to have a Master’s degree, while a significant proportion also holds a Doctorate degree or equivalent. Looking at the EAIE Barometer respondents working at higher education institutions, 56% indicated that they held a Master’s degree, whereas 31% indicated that the held a Doctorate degree. Given that having a Master’s degree or higher is relatively common among European internationalisation practitioners compared to, for instance, those in the US, the level of education might be a lesser concern than the lack of subject-specific education. Yet there is in Europe a growing group of practitioners who feel that, in order for them to advance in their career in an academic environment, a Doctorate degree is vital.

Professionalising the profession

It has been possible to specialise in education administration for a long time, but only in the 1990’s did it become possible to attain a degree in international higher education administration – according to a NAFSA paper. This development is evolving, with more and more institutions offering advanced level degrees for international education administrators.

The Senior International Officer (SIO) is usually seen as a middle manager in the higher education institution, navigating their way between the leadership, faculty, staff and international partners. In the SAGE Handbook of International Higher Education, authors Heyl and Tullbane summarised some of the vital skills to perform in this role: strategic planning, innovation, cooperating across the institution (as well as cross-culturally), mobilising resources, and assessing of policies and programmes. The question then becomes: Are these specific skills addressed by the advanced degree programmes on offer?

The content and focus of the different Master’s programmes differ, but a common component among many of them is that they cover comparative education systems and policy. A significant portion of the programmes has a specific focus on development cooperation and social issues relating to education in a globalised world – such as Bath Spa University – while others have leadership and intercultural skills as cornerstones of their offering. Specific aspects of internationalisation – such as student experience or transnational education (TNE) – are also covered by some programmes. It’s worth carefully studying the programme’s content to see what best fits your own future career ambitions and interests.

Time and money

Many prospective students planning to undertake a Master’s degree in international education administration already have a few years worth of working experience. These students are usually looking to build on their previous educational and professional experiences and there are even institutions that have work experience as a prerequisite. Some programmes specifically seek to cater to the needs of the adult student population by offering the opportunity to take their programmes online (eg University of Leicester), or part-time (eg the University of Leeds). These part-time programmes can, therefore, be combined with a (part-time) job, while others require full-time presence for one to two years.

A degree always comes with a price tag. Even when a degree programme is tuition-fee, it has other associated costs, such as the time spent studying that could have been spent working. The costs for a full Master’s degree mostly vary from a few thousand euros up until almost €20,000. Some institutions, such as Stockholm University and the University of Jyvaskyla, do not charge tuition fees for EU and EEA students for pursuing a Master’s degree in international education.

To study or not to study; that is the question

As previously mentioned, some practitioners increasingly feel that their Master’s degree is not sufficient to advance in their institution or the field at large. Higher education institutions also offer Doctorate programmes in international education that might be worth exploring. Some of these programmes are very research-oriented, while others – such as the one at University College London – are specifically aimed at professionals looking to expand their expertise. The time commitment for a Doctorate degree is, on average, twice that of a Master’s degree. Luckily, many institutions offer the possibility of following a part-time Doctorate programme.

Undertaking a full degree in international education management will require investing time and money, as well as some proper desk research to find the right degree for you. There are many different degrees on offer and some of them will likely fit your personal and professional needs. Prior to considering attaining such a degree, it is worth seriously thinking about why you need the degree, what the added value will be for you professionally and what specific content and delivery mode best fits you.
Anna-Malin is Policy Officer at the EAIE.

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