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What Is International Education in Higher Education? Perspectives from 6 Research Approaches to IE

With today’s technological innovations—specifically in the communications and travel sectors—higher education institutions from all over the world will have to embrace the thrust of international education sooner or later.

Key Points at a Glance

  • International education allows future generations to learn, discuss, practice and apply academic learnings that are considered to be in line with a “global standard.”
  • There are six distinct research approaches to international education, each important.
  • As of 2016, 54 percent of international schools are in Asia.
  • International education initiatives allow for an internationally connected student population and to contribute to a growing international education sector.

International education is many things. One thing it does however, which makes it all the more important moving forward, is allowing the future generations to learn, discuss, practice and apply academic learnings that are considered to be in line with a “global standard.” This includes the shared cultural experiences as well, that comes along with going to school with international students.

 There are six distinct research approaches to international education

Comparative and International Education

Comparative and International Education focuses on the academic study of important educational subjects and matters as defined by various world cultures, peoples and nations. This type of research is key for higher education institutions as it brings to context how international education should be applied in their own schools.

For instance, ​​a study that compares public schools in Asia and the West gives educators and students alike an overview of how to pursue or practice their educational goals.

Internationalization of Higher Education

Internationalization is not globalization. To generalize, the latter is more outward branding, marketing and expansion. The former is immersive, experiential and academic.

Canadian educator Jane Knight defines internationalization as “the process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education.” Seven years later, a study in Europe entitled “Internationalisation of Higher Education: A Study for the European Parliament” proposes an updated definition: “[Internationalization is] the intentional process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education, in order to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff and to make a meaningful contribution to society.”

International School

The definition may not be as simple as it sounds. Just because an institution accepts international students doesn’t technically make it an international school. Rather, international schools are more deliberate in their goals—to teach young locals as would an institution abroad, and expect that the results would better the chances of these students in seeking out higher education overseas.

What countries are popular for international education? 

A 2016 report stated that there are 8,257 international schools: Fifty-four percent of these schools are in Asia, accounting for the education of 2.55 million (60 percent) international school students.

International Research on teaching and teacher education

Teaching and teacher education on the international scale is also another important field of research. According to the National Council for Teacher Education, teacher education is “a programme of education, research and training of persons to teach from pre-primary to higher education level.”

In terms of international education, teachers must be prepared and well-equipped to deliver their course material and effectively communicate with their students, regardless of background. Educators are responsible for the student experience inside the classroom where much of the learning happens. The right research into international teaching and teacher education will help educators achieve their tasks more effectively and efficiently.

Internationalization of K-12 education

The educational system K-12 education covers kindergarten to 12th grade. This is the system applied to primary and secondary education in the United States. Therefore, the internationalization of K-12 education, most especially in schools outside the US, is vital to the overall internationalization of education around the world.

Simply put, it allows for greater compatibility between higher education institutions.

In practice, the internationalization of K-12 education should bring institutions to close proximity with intercultural learning opportunities. The lack of a clear strategy poses a threat to campus internationalization.

Globalization of education

This article started saying that internationalization is different from globalization. Knight, whose definition of internationalization is considered one of the primary sources, also goes on to state that globalization is a “process that focuses on the worldwide flow of ideas, resources, people, economy, values, culture, knowledge, goods, services, and technology.”

From a business- and educational-perspective, globalization is more concerned with international messaging and branding. Globalization also has a role in hosting a globally competitive learning environment. 


International education in higher education is always evolving. A thriving international education sector brings about a lot of opportunities for higher education institutions, their educators, staff and students.

Most especially these times, it’s important to launch international education initiatives in order to first, serve an internationally connected student population and next, to contribute to a growing international education sector.


Data Source:

Dolby, N. (2008, September). Research in International Education. Review of Educational Research. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40071141

Comparative and International Education. British Educational Research Association. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/community/comparative-and-international-education

Comparative and International Education: The Making of a Field and a Vision for the Future (2013). Current Issues in Comparative Education. Retrieved from https://www.tc.columbia.edu/cice/pdf/30405_CICE_16_1_Final.pdf

Hunter, F. (2015, October 5) What’s in a name? Refocusing internationalisation of higher education. European Association for International Education. Retrieved from https://www.eaie.org/blog/whats-in-a-name-refocusing-internationalisation-of-higher-education.html

De Wit, H. (2015, July) Internationalisation of Higher Education. Policy Department B: Structural and Cohesion Policies. Retrieved from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/540370/IPOL_STU(2015)540370_EN.pdf

Report reveals rapid rise in international schools (2016, June 23) International School Search. Retrieved from https://www.internationalschoolsearch.com/news/report-reveals-rapid-rise-in-international-schools

Concept of Teacher Education. University of Mumbai. Retrieved from https://archive.mu.ac.in/myweb_test/ma%20edu/Teacher%20Education%20-%20IV.pdf

Vaught, C. (2015, December) The Internationalization of K-12 Education: A Case Study of an International School in the Asia-Pacific Region. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/177087/Vaught_umn_0130E_15515.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Knight, J. Internationalization of education. Aqu Catalunya. Retrieved from aqu.cat/elButlleti/butlleti75/articles1_en.html#.YVbGY0YzbUp


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