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Internationalization of Education: Past Practices and Future Possibilities

Internationalization goes beyond an institution recognizing a foreign student’s culture.

Internationalization of Education: Past Practices and Future Possibilities

Healthy internationalization, in the context of higher education, is a ridiculously complex balancing act.

How does a higher education institution (HEI) define internationalization? Is it the inculcating of first-world ideals upon a student through a series of lectures? Is it for a school to focus on establishing more global locations to reach more diverse learners? Is it a student trading local culture for a more global perspective, as practiced throughout the campus the student is in?

Internationalization is not merely achieved through enrolling more international students, establishing more global locations, or setting up several pathway agreements in universities all around the world, although these are all means to an end. As to what that end might look like, remains to be determined.

Internationalization is more immersive than it is merely inclusive. It goes beyond an institution recognizing a foreign student’s culture—it embraces it, understands it, and integrates it in all aspects of learning ranging from program delivery to class environment, all for a pure internationalized educational experience.

The past, avoiding the ‘vanity race’

In most, if not all, ventures, expansion has always been a driving force for growth. Members of the education industry are not exempted. However, it is up to the esteemed leaders of an institution, despite the need to reach out to more students, to continue holding the school to the highest standards of quality education and uncompromising ethics.

As internationalization in education has gained popularity in the last three decades, it could be seen as the inevitable reaction of a world that has become much smaller, thanks to innovations in technology and transportation. Plus, it can be said that students now are more open-minded in accessing knowledge and learning experiences from other countries. There is also that aspect of migration when international students choose to live out their careers in another country.

However, HEIs face the dangers of falling into a trap of running a vanity race just for reasons of global expansion. Global branding is not internationalization.

university library full
More and more students are exploring studying abroad.

Jane Knight of the University of Toronto, in her 2008 article “Higher Education in Turmoil: The Changing World of Internationalization,” defined internationalization as “the process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education.”

In a 2015 study titled “Internationalisation of Higher Education: A Study for the European Parliament,” its authors Hans de Wit, Fiona Hunter, Laura Howard, and Eva Egron-Polak revised Knight’s definition stating that 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.”

Educators should take note then that internationalization is a result of streamlined intentional actions, and not just a series of incidental reactions based on the environment surrounding the students.

The present, some warning signs

The challenging thing with internationalization is that there is not one system, format or protocol with which to administer it. It differs from country to country, institution to institution, educator to educator, student to student.

An institution which turns to internationalization as a fad to market itself as a global school is setting itself up for failure. There is a lot of work to be done outside of mere marketing. How many HEIs around the world have actually taken the time, talent and resource to intentionally draft their curriculum or train their educators for internationalization? Surely, the facilities of an internationalized school are set up taking into consideration the different cultures represented by the students, aren’t they?

There are many other signs to look out for when trying to avoid the dangers of internationalization as a marketing or branding effort. Check the integrity of the institution, has it spread itself out too thinly? Go over its programs—do they provide a rich academic and cultural experience across continents? Verify their credentials, and if they are accepted in other countries or institutions.

Internationalization: Hope for the future

A reasoning which runs parallel to the core purpose of internationalization, is that it is an approach to empower local students with knowledge gleaned from studying in advanced institutions abroad. Home countries await for their sons and daughters back, now with minds even brighter than before. It is unfortunate, however—but very responsible to be able to recognize this—that students are forgetting their roots and trading it for the culture presented at their host universities. These students are “homogenized,” and the whole idea of a “cultural exchange” has lost its meaning.

A good start to internationalization is when a HEI decides to step out of the business of globalization and step into the circle of international education. From there, little steps go a long way.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, HEIs are quickly adapting themselves to the use of online learning platforms. Most students see themselves staying in their home countries for the foreseeable future. 

The pandemic affected 1.3 billion learners worldwide. According to multinational market research and consulting firm Ipsos, higher education will be a hybrid of in-person and online learning until 2025. Educational institutions will have to adopt “blended” learning strategies which mix online instruction with face-to-face teaching institutions.

MSM HE Internationalization Past Practices 1
COVID-19’s staggering impact on global education (STATISTA)

This present situation brings about an opportunity for HEIs to practice internationalization the way it was intended. Students who are at home have access to education from advanced countries. Should the time come when these students have to finish their studies abroad, these institutions can continue their good work of molding model global citizens from their campuses.

In conclusion, a tree is known by its fruits. The product of healthy internationalization are an institution’s graduates. They should be able to present extended dimensions of themselves, free of any cultural dominion; locally, globally, and socially conscious, with their succeeding actions done for the greater benefit of society, whether at home or away. 

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Data Sources:

“Internationalization of Higher Education | Journal of … – OJED.” 15 Feb. 2020, https://www.ojed.org/index.php/jis/article/view/1893. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.

 “Internationalisation of Higher Education – European Parliament.” https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/540370/IPOL_STU(2015)540370_EN.pdf. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.

 “How will higher education change post-pandemic? | World ….” 25 Nov. 2020, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/higher-education-online-change-cost-covid-19/. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.

“This chart shows how much COVID-19 has impacted ….” 26 Mar. 2020, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/infographic-covid19-coronavirus-impact-global-education-health-schools/. Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.



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