EAIE Winter Forum: The internationalisation research agenda

EAIE Winter Forum: The internationalisation research agenda EAIE Forum

What do we know? How do we know it? What is that knowledge good for? And what do we think we need to know for the future? These are some of the fundamental questions that frame the often lofty discussions surrounding the notion of ‘research’. So, what’s the state of research in the field of internationalisation in higher education? The Winter 2019 issue of Forum magazine aims to find out.

Here’s a fun exercise: put the word “research” through Google’s search engine function and prepare to have your mind slightly blown. In 0.37 seconds, some 4.72 billion results are identified! Clearly, there’s a lot out there on ‘research’ – with some resources attempting to define exactly what research is and others presenting the results of investigative exercises that provide examples of how research can be conducted and the wide array of findings that can be generated. In the age of the knowledge economy/society, data is vital and research generates crucial insights. So, how does all of this relate to our work as international educators?

Why does research matter?

For the field of international higher education, research is a vitally important and timely topic for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, we’re working in an era of increasing demands for accountability and impact. As such, ever higher premiums are being placed on the ability to produce evidence that can help clarify the true nature of the results obtained by the programmes we offer, the initiatives we put forward, and the resources we invest. The undertaking of meaningful, high-quality research in relation to our field gives all of the constituents connected to this work better insight into its value.

Research is also important in light of the fact that internationalisation – as it is currently being undertaken, ie on a fairly large and strategic scale in many higher education institutions across Europe and elsewhere – is a relatively new field of activity. For example, while academic mobility does indeed have a long tradition in Europe, ‘tradition’ has been taken to new levels over the last three decades through the processes of involving several million students and staff in organised mobility schemes of many different types.

This new level of complexity begs exploration of the potentially wide-ranging effects of these activities. And that’s just mobility. Similarly, there are innovative new approaches to internationalisation that are currently being developed and deployed in a wide range of other areas, which touch on the curriculum and the non-mobile student experience, teaching and learning, staff development, community engagement, institutional collaborations and more. New research is required to help explain if and how these approaches are making an appreciable difference in the lives of the individuals, institutions and national systems of higher education that are undertaking them.

Hopefully, Forum’s exploration of the current research landscape will help clarify the ways in which researchers are paying attention to the many domains in which our work unfolds, and where there are key gaps in attention or knowledge development.

How do we bridge the research-practice divide?

In addition to making sense of the breadth of research being undertaken in the field of internationalisation, it’s also vital to understand the ways in which the fruits of research about our work are actually being used to improve our practice. There are several angles that can be considered here. One is access to research, as much of the ‘most valued’ research is published in journals that may not be easily accessible to many practitioners. So, are we as practitioners actively reflecting on or using research about our field? Relevance is also a consideration, given that some research may be presented in ways that highlight theoretical understanding over practical application of new knowledge, or may focus on topics that aren’t burning issues for practitioners. From where you sit, does the research being undertaken really ‘speak to you’ and the work you do?

If we say that research is important because it informs practice, and also that the explosion of international activity in higher education is increasing the interest in internationalisation as a subject of research, then hopefully there is an intersection between these two domains. Do we see examples of research being actively applied to professional activity? Or of researchers working collaboratively with practitioners to identify key questions and collectively develop answers? The coming issue of Forum would offer an outstanding platform to showcase that kind of dynamic.

What do we really want?

The research landscape may be complex and, for those of us not directly researching internationalisation, may seem kind of ‘out there’ and removed from our daily reality. But, if we get back to the fundamental essence of what research is meant to do – ie help expand our understanding of the world around us – then it really is something that can and does belong to all of us. So, what do we want from the research being done about internationalisation? What are the burning questions that require our focused attention and why? A thoughtful consideration of a future research agenda for our field would be another welcome contribution to the Forum discussion on this subject.

Talk with your friends and colleagues! Pool your thoughts and ideas! Consider what research means to you and what it should mean to the ongoing efforts to develop responsible internationalisation of higher education in Europe and beyond. And do consider lending your voice to the Winter 2019 issue of Forum magazine, on ‘The internationalisation research agenda’.

Laura E. Rumbley
EAIE, the NetherlandsLaura is Director, Knowledge Development and Research, at the EAIE.