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US institutions recalibrate internationalisation priorities post pandemic

Internationalisation activities at US campuses have been mapped in a new report, which suggests that, although not a priority for the majority of institutions, many are looking to rebound activities in the years ahead.

Overall, rural institutions "tended to devote fewer resources to internationalisation", the ACE report found. Photo: pexels

The report found that the top countries for international student recruitment in the survey were China (65%), India (52%), Vietnam (46%), South Korea (42%), and Japan (34%)

The latest Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses report, published every five years by the American Council on Education, indicates that student mobility – which has been a top priority for internationalisation since 2016 – will continue to be a key priority beyond the pandemic.

However, the report found that while 51% of the 900 respondents from US institutions noted US student study abroad as a future priority, 63% identified international student recruitment as the top priority.

Photo: ACE

Although a majority of respondents suggested that the level of institutional internationalisation was low or very low during the pandemic – and 68% agreed that the Covid-19 pandemic would affect their institution’s long-term internationalisation strategy – the report described the view of respondents as “fairly optimistic”.

Some 66% said internationalisation will increase over the next five years, compared to 4% saying it would decrease. A further 30% said it would stay about the same.

Director of the Office of International Education at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Scott Pierson, emphasised that the institution’s “recently updated mission statement reaffirms our unique value proposition through our polytechnic approach to education”.

Three primary areas centre around returning to study abroad “in a more nuanced and intentional way”, with a focus underrepresented student populations in programming, technology and virtual collaborations in the curricula and building a sense of community.

“During Summer 2022, we launched a pre-college program for incoming freshmen to earn academic credit overseas while gaining independence, global awareness, positive study skills, and the opportunity to bond with peers in an international setting,” he told The PIE.

Similarly, Old Dominion University’s new strategic plan states that the university is “wholly dedicated to internationalisation”.

“The pandemic has of course shaped this pledge, but so have events like the world economy in 2022 and the war in the Ukraine,” according to ODU senior international officer Paul Currant.

“Higher learning institutions feel a greater responsibility than ever to educate students who are aware of global events – and today’s students are more than open to this.”

The report found that some 43% of institutions reference internationalisation in mission statement, but only 36% feature internationalisation in the top five priorities of their strategic plans.

ODU is also looking to democratise global education, he continued.

“Whereas previously we might have seen success in terms of study abroad and international student numbers, attention is now just as much on the vast majority of our domestic students who are not able to study abroad, most often for financial reasons,” he said.

COIL, low-cost study away programs and further pushes to internationalise the curriculum are seeing heavy investment at ODU, Currant added.

The ACE paper pointed to an increased use of technology across internationalisation activities, including “expanded virtual learning opportunities, international student recruitment, and course-level collaborations”.

At Grinnell College in Iowa, for example, an internal risk mitigation strategy was created in Spring 2021 in order for study abroad to be resumed.

“We were one of the first institutions in the United States to resume study abroad in Spring 2021,” said Kate Patch, senior international officer/senior director of Global Initiatives, Institute for Global Engagement, Grinnell.

“Over 60% of our students engage in a global learning opportunity abroad during their undergraduate degree and we are committed to supporting more opportunities for our students with a special focus on creating global programs for our student athletes, increasing inclusive and equitable opportunities for all students and continuing to bring international scholars to campus.”

Internationalisation is also a “strong priority” at Louisiana State University, senior internationalisation officer and executive director of International Programs Samba Dieng, detailed.

The institution’s Internationalisation Lab subcommittees include focus on International Recruitment & Retention, Education Abroad, International Research, Scholarship, & Partnerships, Curriculum & Co-curriculum and Faculty & Staff Support.

International recruitment

Internationalisation is also a focus for community colleges, as strategy leader / senior international officer at Hillsborough Community College, Michael Brennan, explained.

“It remains a priority as we emerge to the new normal; however, our College (like others) confronts real challenges as a result of the pandemic,” he said, although adding that “re-engaging domestic students who disappeared over the past 2+ years before earning a credential, for example, is an institutional priority”.

“Recruiting international students is equally important today as it was pre-pandemic; however, a longstanding agreement that the College would invest responsibly in additional staff and technology as international enrolment grew might be in jeopardy because of competing and immediate post-pandemic priorities. If so, we will need to limit our growth in recruiting,” he explained.

The ACE report noted that many SIOs noted that they were hoping to “reengage with,” “resurrect”, or “boost” international recruitment in coming years.

“Recruiting international students is one of the university’s biggest internationalisation priorities”

“Attracting the best and brightest minds in the world is also a top-down priority for LSU,” Dieng told The PIE. LSU recently led a student recruitment initiative in Ghana and Senegal.

“Recruiting international students is one of the university’s biggest internationalisation priorities, as it is an area of focus that impacts the entire academic experience at LSU,” he noted.

“A successful international student recruitment operation requires campus buy-in and LSU is very committed to ensuring that international students have adequate resources and infrastructure to be successful on campus and in their careers. Providing good service to this population and putting them in a position to succeed professionally are part and parcel. You cannot separate the two.

“As a former international student myself, I know what it is like to live and study in a foreign country. Institutions of higher learning in the US often underestimate this experience or don’t understand it at all. LSU gets the urgency of the work of supporting and nurturing international students. That’s what it is going to take for the US to keep its position as the number one destination for higher education,” Dieng explained.

Others, such as UW-Stout, are seeking to “recalibrate traditional international student recruitment efforts” through the use of an overseas in-country university representation model.

The report found that the top countries for international student recruitment in the survey were China (65%), India (52%), Vietnam (46%), South Korea (42%), and Japan (34%).

A previous ACE report called for a reshaping of the relationships US institutions have with international students, focusing on inclusion and success.

UW-Stout has “included recruitment of international students as part of its institutional enrolment strategy” as result of population decline in several Midwest states making domestic student recruitment more competitive, Pierson noted.

“Paired with decades of declining financial support at a state level, many public institutions of higher education and their local communities have tremendous capacity and desire to welcome international students,” he said.

Efforts at Grinnell College indicate that internationalisation is not limited to public institutions.

Together with colleagues at Kalamazoo College and Beloit College, Patch at Grinnell has been “advocating for an alternative comprehensive internationalisation model for liberal arts colleges/teaching intensive institutions that prioritises student learning”.

With 20% of the student body international students, the college has for many decades “prioritised the recruitment of international students and will continue to do so with 100% support from senior leadership”, Patch noted.

“Although Grinnell has tremendous support for strengthening internationalisation efforts, we too realise we cannot simply rely on mobility to achieve intercultural competencies and learning for our faculty, staff and students,” she told The PIE.

“Global learning is taking place in the classrooms, dormitories and student activities”

“Increasing the number of international visiting scholars teaching on campus (whether through a three-week, short course or for an entire year) creates broader global learning touch points across our campus community. Likewise, global learning is taking place in the classrooms, dormitories and student activities with the presence of our international students and international scholars.”

Together with colleagues at other community colleges, Brennan has also advocated for an international education “re-think” at community colleges.

“Instead of defaulting to university-centric models for comprehensive internationalisation (which often do not work in our context), we can create an authentic paradigm for community colleges,” he said.

“A collective, thoughtful examination on how to align our commitment to equity and inclusion with international education is overdue. In other words, let’s bring international initiatives from the periphery to the heart of our institutions. Start by exploring the question: how does comprehensive internationalisation benefit our domestic students?

“We need external supporters and a new organisation to support our efforts. Our two major associations have either disbanded their international office (AACC) or not sustained their advocacy for international education (ACCT)”.

More government support may be required, others suggested.

“We recognise the need to graduate globally competent students to meet the demands of our interconnected global workforce,”UW-Stout’s Pierson said. “In order for these efforts to be most effective, we encourage our elected officials to support additional reforms.”

Expanded employment opportunities and pathways to become lawful permanent residents could provide increased incentives to “enable the US to remain competitive and attract international students”, he suggested.

Additionally, more resources for US State Department visa processing and ramping up staffing to be able to meet post-pandemic demand, would be beneficial.

“There are still significant wait times and bottlenecks that prospective international students face when seeking student visa interviews,” he said.

“There are still significant wait times and bottlenecks that prospective international students face”

Currant added that international recruitment is “certainly important at ODU, though not necessarily more so than pre-pandemic”.

“The university is, however, prioritising online learning and that will mean more international students becoming part of ODU as individual learners as well as classes in global universities taking ODU online courses as part of partnership agreements.

“One way we are looking to be more effective recruiters is by ensuring our marketing is as relevant as it can be. ODU is not the most recognised global brand so we have to fully sell our advantages. If they won’t come to us, we have to go to them.

“Every aspect of internationalisation now has innumerable options for universities to choose from, whether this involves technology, data, study abroad programs, English language training, or companies promising solutions to all problems. We all know that some of these options will work for us and some will not so we have to use our market knowledge, research well, and budget with the utmost care so that our resources are not wasted. That is an absolute no no today.”

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