Conducted biannually since 2007, the organisation’s ninth State of the Field Report from the 2022 survey of its 151 member institutions and over 300 individual stakeholders in the field “takes the pulse” of what’s happening in the education abroad sector.
The aim is to apprise education abroad professionals of current trends in the field to “crowdsource strategies for overcoming challenges and reaching new goals” and to inform policy.
In a webinar hosted by The Forum, some of the authors, Amelia Dietrich, Kelly Holland, Emily Gorlewski, Miguel Ayllon, Deirdre Sheridan, and Kyle Rausch, highlighted key findings from the survey.
Amelia Dietrich, senior director for research and publications for The Forum, told The PIE that for the 2022 survey, said that by collaborating with colleagues from different organisations and in different professional roles allowed a “more comprehensive project”.
A new component of this year’s project included individual stakeholder surveys, in which respondents were asked about their individual job responsibilities and salaries, as well as their current level of satisfaction in their position.
A notable statistic was that 56% of all respondents were currently, or had in the past year been, seeking a new position. When asked about the most important factors for employment, compensation and benefits, organisational support and culture, and pathways to promotion ranked highest.
Based on the results of this new component of the survey, The Forum published a white paper composed of data, insights and recommendations to address concerns of international educators.
“The partnership with the working group [which produced the white paper] brought in more perspectives, more voices and more creativity to deliver contextualised data and recommendations that support our colleagues and inform their work,” asserted Dietrich.
“We’re at risk at losing a huge amount of people, experience and knowledge”
Kyle Rausch, executive director of the study abroad office at the University of Illinois at Chicago, chaired the working group and noted that work responsibilities required in this field have changed dramatically over the past few years.
“Although the data are not the most uplifting, it’s not necessarily surprising to those of us who have been feeling the pressures and constraints which the pandemic only exacerbated,” he shared with the PIE.
“It is incumbent upon us as a field to continue this line of research and advocacy. We cannot accept the status quo and must use principles of respectful disruptive leadership to ‘call in’ as opposed to ‘call out’ our leaders who can affect the change that needs to occur for the betterment of our profession.”
One of the central concerns that emerged from the data was inadequate staffing in education abroad departments with 80% of respondents indicating that they lacked sufficient staffing. Of these 80%, almost half reported that just one additional full-time equivalent staff member would significantly address their departmental needs.
Yet despite the fact that education abroad has rebounded post-pandemic, just shy of half of the respondents indicated that their current staffing was less than pre-pandemic.
This is compounded by the fact that reductions and high turnover resulted in the loss of institutional knowledge in many departments, leading to a steep learning curve for new staff.
“That for me is really quite alarming,” said Deidre Sheridan, international manager for the school of medicine at University of Galway. “We’re at risk at losing a huge amount of people, experience and knowledge.”
She said the sector needs to think about “how we harness the passion [for education abroad] and keep people in our organisations and field and also satisfy the needs they have around training and professional development”.
For even with seasoned staff, results indicated that nearly half are asked to perform skills in which they have not been formally trained. These include finance/budget management, risk management, technology, crisis management and outreach and marketing. Moreover, respondents listed four of these five skills as being in the top 10 competencies needed to perform their roles effectively.
Panellists also discussed how these added pressures and the notion of continually “doing more with less” has contributed to significant burnout in the field.
Discussing the burnout befalling industry colleagues, Kelly Holland, vice president of institutional partnerships at AIFS Abroad told The PIE, “The timing of the survey caught many of us in a challenging time and the results are one way to articulate what made the work so challenging.”
Miguel Ayllon, executive director for international partnerships and study abroad at University of Missouri suggested the burnout data indicates the field is still healing. “We’re healing from Covid-19, from job losses… racial injustice, the threats to our nation that we endured.”
He added that what gives him hope is the solidarity within the study abroad field. “There is power in us being together….and walking in this journey together…as we collectively heal as a group.”
For Emily Gorlewski, director of study abroad at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, the silver lining is in being able to “open up the field” as new hires come on board. “We can advocate for more diversity,” she said.
And she recommended looking for those with a passion for the profession as she asserted, “you can’t teach passion. Skills can be taught”.
She recommended, “gathering and sharing resources and having open and honest conversations” with colleagues to be supportive and help each other move forward.
All panellists also underscored the importance of advocacy in order to enact meaningful change. They encouraged using the report as a tool to encourage dialogue about what is and is not working.
Dietrich concluded, “Engaging with practitioners in the scholarly work of critical self-reflection about their practice and profession results in nuanced, actionable data that is both more accessible and more affirming of the work international educators do to make high-quality education abroad opportunities available to all students.”