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Internationalisation must reach all levels of education – EU study

Internationalising Europe’s education sector should extend beyond the higher education level and focus more on learning outcomes than student recruitment according to a recently released European study.

The report cites that internationalisation be a part of the institutional change process, not a stand-alone policy. Photo: University of Coimbra/mgm105

Some internationalisation strategies have the potential to compromise academic principles and values

Produced at the request of the European Parliament, the study urges better alignment of HE internationalisation goals on a policy level in primary, secondary and vocational education.

“Having an international experience and understanding requires attention at all levels”

The earlier children are immersed in an international environment, both at school and at home, “the more likely they are to continue to be interculturally and internationally stimulated and active” the report charges.

Hans de Wit, one of the report’s authors, and director at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, said the onus to create global citizens is on all educators.

“Higher education cannot and should not be held responsible for increasing the global competence of their graduates,” he told The PIE News.

“Language skills, understanding of history, culture and geography of the world, having an international experience and understanding requires attention at all levels.”

This was also echoed by another of the report’s authors, Laura Howard, president of EAIE, who said the conclusions “provide insights into the ever-broadening boundaries of internationalisation”.

“[The conclusions] show us that although our focus is higher education, we cannot ignore other levels of education, and must go beyond mobility for a minority in order to improve the quality of education for all,” she told The PIE News. 

The study also highlights the discrepancy between strategies primarily focussed on the economic gain of mobility, improving international reputation or recruiting talented staff and efforts to enhance learning outcomes.

“The combination of a dominant focus on mobility of students and on research as driving the agenda,” is one of the main challenges facing European institutions said de Wit.

He added that the political climate needs to become “more inward looking and driven by national and institutional interests”.

Drawing on data from 10 European countries and seven countries from outside the continent, the report highlighted a need for more internationalisation at home, with greater focus placed on international learning outcomes in the curriculum.

De Wit said that although more attention is being drawn towards curriculum in policy, it falls short of being put into practice.

“Very little is done in curriculum development, virtual exchange and other forms”

“Two recent studies by Nuffic about the Netherlands make clear that the main way implementation of internationalisation at home is done is by teaching in English and creating international classroom environments,” he observed.

“But very little is done in curriculum development, virtual exchange and other forms. So there is still a long way to go.”

The report also warns that some internationalisation strategies have the potential to compromise academic principles and values.

De Wit attributed this to “increased national and institutional interests and commercialisation driving the agenda for internationalisation”.

In order to prevent jeopardising standards, the report emphasises that internationalisation processes should act in line with the values published in the International Association of Universities‘ Affirming Academic Values in Internationalisation of Higher Education.

Intercultural learning, inter-institutional cooperation and fair partnership are included in IAU’s code of conduct.

The report also reiterates a commonly cited goal for internationalisation: that it be a feature of the general institutional change process and not a stand-alone policy.

Fiona Hunter, also of the CHEI, and Eva Egron-Polak, secretary general and executive directer of the IAU co-authored the report.

“I think the fact that the European Parliament requested such a study shows that the time was ripe for an in-depth analysis of the situation covering a broad range of diverse factors,” said Howard.

“The internationalisation of higher education in Europe does not happen in isolation – it’s part of a much bigger picture.”

Findings were based on a variety of texts, as well as statistics and other international education studies and resources, including the EAIE Barometer, which was released earlier this year, and the International Association of Universities global survey.

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