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USA needs a national agenda on globalising HE, says ACE

The US should adopt a “comprehensive national policy” to pursue an internationalisation agenda, given the absence of an education ministry to lead the internationalisation of its higher education system, a leading researcher has claimed.

International students at the UMass Lowell Navitas campus – ACE is advocating for better coordination on internationalisation in US HE. Photo: Navitas

"Federal funding is an important catalyst for internationalisation programmes and initiatives"

Federal funding can also propel advancement at a national level, urges the American Council on Education in a new paper.

The report has been welcomed by stakeholders, although a senior commentator at IIE has championed the value of the USA’s “incredibly diverse and largely independently-managed” tertiary institutions.

Robin Matross Helms, associate director for research at the Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement at ACE, authored the report. She told The PIE News, “I am not recommending the creation of a new agency, but rather more coordination among federal agencies that have internationalisation-related policies and programmes in place.”

Helms notes that her report — Internationalizing US Higher Education: Current Policies, Future Directions — suggests a need for a “coordinating body that reflects both individual agency goals, as well as specific goals for higher education internationalisation.”

And since the US Department of Education already interacts with American colleges and universities, “it makes sense for this agency to serve as convener for such a group,” Helms said.

She also calls for more federal funding for internationalisation-related programmes across the board, noting that such efforts already involve the US Departments of State, Education and Defense, as well as the National Science Foundation and other agencies.

“Every US college and university has and necessarily must continuously refine its own ‘foreign policy’”

Peggy Blumenthal, senior counsellor to the President at IIE, described Helms’ report as an “impressive catalogue of available resources” that is “quite helpful.”

While Blumenthal said more federal dollars are “always welcome,” she stopped short of endorsing Helms’ view that America’s efforts at internationalisation need to be more cohesive.

“While it is hard to argue against the statement that more coordinated efforts are generally better than less, it is also important to recognise the value of America’s incredibly diverse and largely independently-managed higher education ‘system,’ which is really a constantly evolving constellation of public and private institutions,” Blumenthal said.

“The reality is that every US college and university has and necessarily must continuously refine its own ‘foreign policy,’ based on its core mission, resources — both financial and human — history, and local context.”

Blumenthal noted that at IIE, officials have found that privately funded initiatives and public-private partnerships can be “nimble and effective, and can help campuses gain access to a wealth of existing resources”.

Helms conceded that the diversity and size of the higher education system — as well as the variety of institutional goals, priorities, and strategies for internationalisation — make it unlikely for a single strategy to be meaningfully applied across the spectrum. However, federal funding still plays an important role because of what it signals, she said.

“Certainly, pursuing funding through public/private partnerships and philanthropy can be helpful, and the report cites some examples of such arrangements,” Helms said.

One such example, she said, is the 100,000 Strong initiative, an Obama Administration initiative that involves efforts to dramatically increase the number of American students studying abroad in China.

The initiative — which relies heavily on scholarships provided by the Chinese government — has since transitioned into an independent, non-profit organisation external to the State Department.

“However, federal funding is an important catalyst for internationalisation programs and initiatives, and sends a message about their importance that can lead to funding from other sources,” Helms continued.

“And when a foreign government contributes substantial funding to a bilateral initiative, an unbalanced relationship is created when the US government does not contribute as well.”

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