02 Mar 2020
by Douglas Proctor, Sabine Sainte-Rose

5 questions to ask during strategic internationalisation planning



In addition to running international programmes in Europe and further afield, as well as supporting a wide range of students with their mobility, many international officers will also be called upon to guide the development of a strategic internationalisation plan for their department or university. In some cases, you may even be asked to lead on the consultation and drafting of the plan itself.

If your department or university wants to develop a strategic internationalisation plan, what are the most important first steps? And how should you go about approaching them? These are key questions to answer, and a lot will depend on the scope of what you are trying to achieve through the formulation of a plan.

In her talk titled “Global social responsibility in HE: who’s doing what and why?” at the 2019 UK NARIC Conference, Dr Vicky Lewis proposed three distinct phases in the evolution of international strategies in universities since the late 1990s. Vicky traces the shift from “international strategies” (popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s) to more comprehensive “internationalisation strategies” (developed in the late 2000s and early 2010s). Since the late 2010s, however, she notes that many institutions have put forward an outward-facing “global engagement strategy” with a commitment to building long-term relationships and engaging responsibly with communities on a global scale.

So, here are five key questions to ask as you embark on the development of a strategic internationalisation plan:

Question 1: What type of plan do I need to develop?

As you start to consider strategic planning for internationalisation in your university or department, your first consideration should be what type of plan you need to develop. Are you framing a strategic plan for the whole institution, or for a part of the institution? Does the strategic plan cover all aspects of international activity (in teaching, research and outreach) or is it focused principally on student activity, for example, or on staff engagement with Internationalisation at Home? Will you be talking about internationalisation (as a Curriculum internationalisation: a process of change) or does the term global engagement suit your purposes better?

Question 2: Who should I talk to in my institution?

Although sometimes a lonely pursuit, strategic planning will not be successful unless there is Integrating internationalised learning outcomes in your institution. Do you have a clear vision from your leadership group? Do other people support that vision at a high level? Is there a general sense that a strategic internationalisation plan is needed? Does your university strategy already reference certain international priorities? Are there pockets of resistance to change which you can work on in advance?

Question 3: How do I start these conversations?

One of the first parts of any strategic planning process is to diagnose what is already happening and what has already been achieved. Without this sense of the status quo, it can be hard to know what strategy to set for the future. Fortunately, an initial process to capture and document current international activities and achievements can also serve as a very effective mechanism for starting the strategic planning conversation within your university. Key questions to ask might be: What are we currently doing? Where have we been most successful? What opportunities are there for us to think or act differently in the future? What are the key drivers and barriers to future success? Do you know of other departments or universities with interesting international initiatives?

Question 4: Do I need to know all the answers in advance?

It is generally the case that the international activities of a university are spread far and wide across the institution, in different units and department and across the functions of teaching, research and outreach. As such, it is very hard to get an exact picture of what is going on and, indeed, to be able to answer any question on international engagement which is asked. However, there are a range of available resources which will help to prepare you for both internal consultations and the drafting of your strategic plan. For example, the model of comprehensive internationalisation put forward by the American Council on Education provides a useful framework for how to strategically align and integrate policies, programmes and initiatives. In Europe, the 2019 EAIE report EAIE Barometer (second edition): Signposts of success draws on survey responses from across the European Higher Education Area to present nine factors that may serve as signposts on the road to successful internationalisation.

Question 5: How should I start writing the plan?

Putting words to paper is never easy, and lengthy internal consultations can sometimes make it harder to start putting things down in writing. However, if you’ve synthesised a set of key themes and aspirations from the conversations you’ve had, why don’t you start by listing these as key headings in your draft strategic plan? These will make the ideal building blocks for the rest of the plan. If need be, you’ll also be able to point back to why you chose them when you’re asked to present the draft plan for approval. Although it’s tempting to look at the strategic internationalisation plans from other universities or departments and to use these as a template, this is unlikely to be the most effective path. Given that strategic planning is context-specific, you should take the time to write the plan that your university or department needs, seeking feedback on the various drafts as you go along.

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