Affirming Academic Values in Internationalization of Higher Education: A Call for Action

I’m delighted to post the statement below, which is a contribution to a long needed debate about the underlying and often submerged values and ideologies associated with the ‘internationalization’ of higher education.  My thanks to Eva Egron-Polak, Secretary General, International Association of Universities (IAU), for sending it to GlobalHigherEd. See this page for the IAU’s general page on internationalization and this page for more information on their ‘rethinking’ initiative.  Kris Olds


There are few higher education institutions that would report a disinterest in becoming more internationally connected, more open to international students or being able to offer more international research opportunities to their faculty.  Research undertaken by the International Association of Universities (IAU) has shown that internationalization of higher education is definitely an important policy and strategy for most universities worldwide.

Few higher education institutions though would admit that some of the rationales for ‘going international’ are founded equally if not more so in the need to find new sources of funding, in the pressure to keep climbing the prestige ladder and in the race for global talent on which rests their nation’s competitiveness.  Pursuit of these goals too is today associated with the internationalization process.

The multiplicity of rationales, approaches and strategies has been growing over the past decades, making the concept of higher education internationalization take on many faces and many meanings.  It has also led to confusion, negative reactions and criticism of the process, particularly in developing nations whose higher education institutions feel less able to set the agenda.

This growing sense of unease stemming from, on the one side, a strong commitment to the ideals of internationalization for improving academic quality, for international understanding and to reap the benefits from a multitude of perspectives and cultural traditions and, on the other side, the increasingly vocal criticism of internationalization as a process bringing commodification, increasing the brain drain and potentially diminishing diversity in higher education, has led the IAU to launch and coordinate an initiative called Re-Thinking Internationalization.  Together with a fairly large international Ad Hoc Expert Group, IAU drafted a document entitled Affirming Academic Values in Internationalization of Higher Education (pasted in below as well) which shines a light on these and other challenges while also outlining how institutions can re-center the process of internationalization around the academic fundamentals.

Elaborating the Call took several months but putting it into action will, we hope begin immediately.  Comments, reactions, suggestion for how to turn the principles of the Call into actions and offers of endorsement for the Call can be sent to: with subject line stating ‘the Call’.

Eva Egron-Polak, Secretary General, International Association of Universities


April 2012

Affirming Academic Values in Internationalization of Higher Education: A Call for Action


This document acknowledges the substantial benefits of the internationalization of higher education but also draws attention to potentially adverse unintended consequences, with a view to alerting higher education institutions to the need to act to ensure that the outcomes of internationalization are positive and of reciprocal benefit to the higher education institutions and the countries concerned.

Internationalization – An evolving concept

1. The internationalization of higher education is a dynamic process, continuously shaped and reshaped by the international context in which it occurs. As this context changes, so do the purpose, goals, meanings, and strategies of internationalization. Over the past half century, the world has changed dramatically as a result of the demise of colonial hegemonies, the end of the Cold War, the rise of new economic powers, and new regional alliances.

2. Globalisation is now the most important contextual factor shaping the internationalization of higher education. Globalisation is characterized by interdependence among nations and manifested in the economic, political, social, cultural, and knowledge spheres. Central to globalization are the increased mobility of goods, services, and people and the accelerating use of information and communication technologies to bridge time and space in unprecedented ways and at continually decreasing costs.

3. Globalization gives an international dimension to all aspects of our lives, communities, and professions. In higher education, it has led to intensified mobility of ideas, students and academic staff and to expanded possibilities for collaboration and global dissemination of knowledge. It has also introduced new aims, activities and actors engaged in internationalization.

4. Institutions, countries and regions in different parts of the world and at different times pursue a variety of goals and participate in diverse ways in the higher education internationalization process. Examples, such as Africa under colonial rule, where access to higher education meant travelling abroad to attend one of the universities of the colonial power, or more recently the Bologna Process, which is radically changing the higher education landscape in Europe through internationally coordinated reforms, illustrate how internationalization fulfils different purposes and brings different rewards and challenges.

5. The goals of internationalization are continuously evolving, ranging from educating global citizens, building capacity for research, to generating income from international student tuition fees and the quest to enhance institutional prestige. New forms of internationalization such as branch campuses abroad, distance learning programs with a global reach, international educational hubs and networks now complement traditional initiatives such as student and staff mobility, curriculum change and international institutional linkages for teaching and research. New institutional players, in particular new private sector providers, have entered the scene.

6. Although the risk of brain drain remains a serious concern in some parts of the world, some countries are using international student mobility to expand their higher education capacity and capabilities. Governments and institutions are creating formal links with academic talent with their own Diasporas to promote brain circulation. And although uneven global flows of talent will remain an issue of consequence, in the long run, some of its worst impacts can be attenuated as a wider array of nations develop capacity and opportunity at home. Higher education internationalization can play a major role in developing such capacities and opportunities broadly throughout the world.

7. In short, internationalization today is remarkably different from what it was in the first half of the 20th century, in the 1960s or 1980s. A widening of drivers of higher education internationalization has had the effect of making internationalization more of an institutional imperative. The balancing of multiple intended outcomes while preserving essential institutional core values and missions is both a challenge and an opportunity. Internationalization is taking place in a radically new, complex, differentiated, and globalized context. The resulting changes in goals, activities, and actors have led to a re-examination of terminology, conceptual frameworks and previous understandings and, more importantly, to an increased but healthy questioning of internationalization’s values, purposes, goals and means.

The changing nature of internationalization in the context of globalization

8. Irrespective of contextual differences within and between countries, nearly all higher education institutions worldwide are engaged in international activities and are seeking to expand them. Engaging with the world is now considered part of the very definition of quality in education and research.

9. The many enduring academic benefits of internationalization are widely recognized as fundamental. The most noteworthy include, among many others:

  • Improved quality of teaching and learning as well as research.
  • Deeper engagement with national, regional, and global issues and stakeholders.
  • Better preparation of students as national and global citizens and as productive members of the workforce.
  • Access for students to programs that are unavailable or scarce in their home countries.
  • Enhanced opportunities for faculty improvement and, through mobility, decreased risk of academic ‘inbreeding’.
  • Possibility to participate in international networks to conduct research on pressing issues at home and abroad and benefit from the expertise and perspectives of researchers from many parts of the world.
  • Opportunity to situate institutional performance within the context of international good practice.
  • Improved institutional policy-making, governance, student services, outreach, and quality assurance through sharing of experiences across national borders.

10. At the same time, the new world of higher education is characterized by competition for prestige, talent and resources on both national and global scales. National and international rankings are driving some universities to prioritize policies and practices that help them rise in the rankings. At many institutions, internationalization is now part of a strategy to enhance prestige, global competitiveness and revenue. As higher education has in some respects become a global ‘industry’, so has internationalization of higher education become, in some quarters, a competition in which commercial and other interests sometimes overshadow higher education’s fundamental academic mission and values. Competition is in danger of displacing collaboration as the foundation for internationalization.

Possible adverse consequences of internationalization

11. As internationalization of higher education evolves and grows in importance, a number of potentially adverse consequences of the process have begun to appear. These include particular risks for some institutions, uneven benefits, and asymmetrical power relations. Frequently noted are the following concerns:

  • The prevalence of English, though driven by the advantages of having a common medium of communication, has the potential to diminish the diversity of languages studied or used to deliver higher education. The widespread use of English may thus lead to cultural homogenization and finding solutions for these adverse impacts, even though recognized, is difficult.
  • Global competition may diminish the diversity of institutional models of what constitutes quality higher education. The pursuit of a single model of excellence embodied in the notion of a “world-class university,” usually narrowly defined as excellence in research, may result in the concentration of scarce national resources in a few or a single institution to the detriment of a diverse national system of higher education institutions, fit for diverse national purposes. This risk is potentially present everywhere, but is particularly acute for developing countries.
  • Brain drain may continue or even accelerate, undermining the capacity of developing countries and their institutions to retain the talent needed for their prosperity, cultural advancement, and social well-being.
  • Large-scale international student recruitment, at times using questionable and even unethical practices, may cause a variety of problems, such as brain drain. Also, the presence of large numbers of international students may result in misconceptions about decreased opportunities for domestic students or inadvertently feed prejudice about foreigners. This can overshadow the highly positive intellectual and intercultural benefits that international students bring to the classroom, campus, and communities in which they study and live.
  • The growth of transnational programs and creation of branch campuses raises a number of questions including how these enhance the educational capacity of host nations over the long-term, and how able they are to deliver on the promise of an education comparable to that delivered by the sponsoring institution in its home country. A foreign educational presence, with its perceived prestige, has the potential to disadvantage local higher education institutions striving to respond to national needs. Some host nations experience difficulty regulating the presence, activity and quality of foreign programs.
  • As the pursuit of institutional reputation, stimulated by rankings, gains in importance among the goals of internationalization, the selection of international partners may be driven more by the desire to gain prestige by association than by actual interest in cooperation. Such a trend carries the risk of exclusion for many important and high quality institutions from international partnerships.
  • The asymmetry of relations between institutions, based on access to resources for the development and implementation of internationalization strategies, can lead to the pursuit of goals that advantage the better –resourced institutions and can result in unevenly shared benefits.

In noting these adverse consequences, the inherent value of internationalization of higher education is not being called into question. On the contrary, the goal of raising awareness of these potential risks among the institutions of higher education is to ensure that action is taken to avoid them.

Affirming values underpinning internationalization: A call to higher education institutions

12. The benefits of internationalization are clear. In pursuing internationalization, however, it is incumbent on institutions of higher education everywhere to make every effort to avoid or at least mitigate its potential adverse consequences.

13. The prevailing context for higher education internationalization described in this document requires all institutions to revisit and affirm internationalization’s underlying values, principles and goals, including but not limited to: intercultural learning; inter-institutional cooperation; mutual benefit; solidarity; mutual respect; and fair partnership. Internationalization also requires an active, concerted effort to ensure that institutional practices and programs successfully balance academic, financial, prestige and other goals. It requires institutions everywhere to act as responsible global citizens, committed to help shape a global system of higher education that values academic integrity, quality, equitable access, and reciprocity.

14. In designing and implementing their internationalization strategies, higher education institutions are called upon to embrace and implement the following values and principles:

  • Commitment to promote academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and social responsibility.
  • Pursuit of socially responsible practices locally and internationally, such as equity in access and success, and non-discrimination.
  • Adherence to accepted standards of scientific integrity and research ethics.
  • Placement of academic goals such as student learning, the advancement of research, engagement with the community, and addressing global problems at the centre of their internationalization efforts.
  • Pursuit of the internationalization of the curriculum as well as extra curricula activities so that non-mobile students, still the overwhelming majority, can also benefit from internationalization and gain the global competences they will need.
  • Engagement in the unprecedented opportunity to create international communities of research, learning, and practice to solve pressing global problems.
  • Affirmation of reciprocal benefit, respect, and fairness as the basis for partnership.
  • Treatment of international students and scholars ethically and respectfully in all aspects of their relationship with the institution.
  • Pursuit of innovative forms of collaboration that address resource differences and enhance human and institutional capacity across nations.
  • Safeguarding and promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity and respecting local concerns and practices when working outside one’s own nation.
  • Continuous assessment of the impacts – intended and unintended, positive and negative – of internationalization activities on other institutions.
  • Responding to new internationalization challenges through international dialogue that combines consideration of fundamental values with the search for practical solutions to facilitate interaction between higher education institutions across borders and cultures while respecting and promoting diversity.

15. These values are neither slogans nor vague abstractions. They should be applied in very concrete ways to institutional policy and practice. As institutions develop their internationalization strategies, they should be clear and transparent about why they are undertaking a particular initiative, how it relates to their academic mission and values, and what mechanisms can be put in place to avoid possible negative consequences. Open discussion, within and across institutions and associations and with governments, should keep fundamental academic goals and principles in the foreground, in the context of rapid change, complex realities, and ever-mounting pressures of competition and limited resources.

Next steps

16. This Call to Higher Education Institutions is but a first step in IAU’s engagement to collaborate with its Member Organizations and other international education associations and partners to provide institutional guidance and examples of good practice in internationalization. IAU will now turn to helping institutions translate these principles and values into everyday practice.

29 thoughts on “Affirming Academic Values in Internationalization of Higher Education: A Call for Action

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Affirming Academic Values in Internationalization of Higher Education: A Call for Action

  2. I found this article to be very interesting and I enjoyed it. I do not have a knowledge of higher education in another county but I think the strategies can be applied to schools in the United States and can make them better.

  3. I can appreciate your dedication to the cause..going as far as to establish an expert group attests to your diligence in the matter of internationalization in the world of higher education. It is a reminde that the work is never done and that there are people (educators, etc) who have made up their mind to not be a bystander; but willing to put in the work, the very necessary work to be done. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

  4. Wow, I really enjoyed reading this. It was highly enlightening. The part that stuck out for me was the fact that most of the content in the international programs are delivered in English. I understand that English is the predominantly language here in America, but in the effort to reach and retain more international students, one would think that most institutions would make a larger effort to offer opportunities for education in the students’ home languages, especially since most institutions are competing for higher rankings. This would make programs even more attractive to international students. Of course it would take more work on the parts of the institutions to attract and retain professors, instructors, advisors, and other faculty to communicate with these students and teach courses in their own language. The language factor definitely is a huge drawback of globalization at the higher education level. Thanks again for the information.

  5. Comparing educational quality to the fiscal benefits of globalization is an important conversation. The preservation of core educational values and the uniqueness of individual schools are among the concerns I have with the globalization movement, especially as schools sell their “brand” and multiply across nations.

  6. This was a very interesting article to read. I do not have any experience with global higher education, but it seems that it would be very challenging for institutions branching out to other countries especially in making sure to learn, understand and abide by other countries cultures and values.

  7. Very informative post…. I learned a few things about higher education in other countries that I really don’t know much about. One of the concerns of the internationalization of education and, how it “enhances the educational capacity of host nations over the long-term, and how able they are to deliver on the promise of an education comparable to that delivered by the sponsoring institution in its home country,” is something that does raise a few questions for me like how will the desired diversity thrive?

  8. I really enjoyed this article… it was very informative and has covered all aspects of the internationalization of higher education such as the benefits as well as the adverse consequences. As a practicing member of international higher education, I am a teaching member of an American university operating in Saudi Arabia, I concur with the article on how internationalization is bringing opportunities of improvement to the situation of higher education in the host country, but I have few important observations: Firstly, being a transitional program would make this experience isolated and its effect limited to the participants for the duration of the program. I do believe if internationalization of higher education is done in cooperation of higher education institutions in the host country would yield a more enduring or permanent effect on the improvement of the situation of higher education in that country. Secondly, the fact that the teaching medium is in English is caused a very big challenge for making this experience a wide spreading to cover a larger span of the local population, whose native language is not English, as well as limiting the benefits to few members of the society that posse good academic English communication skills. Thirdly, the human and social courses offered by the university are foreign to the local culture and do not contribute to the global diversity awareness causing the creation of subset of the local community that is odd with its local setting; I believe that a special curriculum should be develop in such situations, where the transition would be made easier by blinding in little of both cultures, the new international one and the one of the local host country.

  9. I really enjoyed this article. I am currently attending a school that has international students attending online, so I find the results of this article interesting. I think the most important aspect that needs to be preserved when institutions chose to work with international students is the meaning of the degree/focus of the institution. So long as the meaning is conveyed and transferred to students abroad, whether it be correcting social injustices or helping to better the economic conditions of that nation, I believe that globalization is an important part of educating and connecting all peoples for future global relations.

  10. I found this article to be very interesting. I can’t speak for another country but I do think some of the strategies could be applied to schools in the U.S for improvement. My experience with higher education is limited but I would be interested in seeing how the institutions would branch out internationally with the different cultures, laws, and values.

  11. I enjoyed reading this blog. It was very informative for me and helped me to understand all the different aspects of how internationalization works and the effects it has on the educational community. In recent years I have heard of colleges in my area broadening their campus base overseas setting up campuses in France and Hong Kong. From the knowledge I have gained from this blog, I can understand their reasoning behind this move.

  12. a question for abdulfattahrach53….

    In your experience, has the internationalization of the American University in Saudi Arabia bought more of a diverse culture to that campus?

  13. I also enjoyed this article. It reminded me of the Universities that I work for here in Mexico. Both want to achieve internationalization, but it has been hard work. As you mentioned language has become a barrier. Mexico is trying to diminish that because the have started teaching ENglish since Kindergarden Elementary, etc. etc. What we are experiencing is students that are not very motivated to learn their careers and a second languag. How can we motivate our students?? Are they motivated in other countries?

    Do you think Higher Education Students sees it as an adeverse consequence of internationalization??

  14. Pingback: International Consortia of Universities and the Mission/Activities Question « GlobalHigherEd

  15. Real insightful article. Limited knowledge in internationalization of higher education, though I have acquire an interest in learning more of the pros and cons of this topic.

  16. The more I read this post, the more I agree with you. I especially agree that the values of internationalization of higher education should not be slogans nor vague abstraction and this call for action must be put into effect by the concerned parties. However; I am dismayed to see that the effects of such work are only felt in parts of the world where there is lots of money i.e. China and the Arab States in the Gulf region, and it is basically based on knowledge economy to generate funds for the expat higher education institutions in such countries. What I really want to see, is the initiative to do this out of world citizenry stance; and therefore, see those institutions reach out to help the real needy people throughout the world. I think I am a dreamer.

  17. An answer for Tereasa’s question

    Yes, that is definitely true. The presence of American education in Saudi Arabia (as an extension of the American institution here locally) has made some effect in promoting diversity; however, it is still very little because foreign universities are not operation independently in Saudi Arabia yet, and still have to deal with obstacles from the rigid societal rules, i.e. segregation of the sexes in the classroom. While if you compare the situation in the United Arab Emaciates where there are more than 70 foreign universities operating independently and without interference from the local authorities or the educational system.

  18. It is interesting to read how colleges are spreading their logo across national boundaries.

  19. I found this article facsinating in that it offered me a new perspective on internationalizing higher education, and what should the real motivations behind it be? It really is very good food for thought.

  20. Increasing global awareness and intercultural competencies is a lofty goal for college students and faculty. International students represent a growing student population on many campuses and provide a rich opportunity for engagement, especially for students who cannot travel abroad. Yet, student gatherings by nationality are often the norm. What strategies can be used to facilitate student interactions? How can faculty participate in this process?

  21. This was an informative article; understanding the impact of globalization on higher education will allow those of us that work in institutions to assist in making changes that will benefit international students.

  22. The call for internationalism of higher education, in many ways resounds with some instances of economic homogenization of higher education, and smacks of classism. The tone in the article borders on Americanization of global higher education. When “brain drain” is pointed out as a possible residual effect to internationalize higher education, questions emerge: what institutions globally, feel the effects of lessening education professionals, and what places are experiencing the outpouring from the draining? Is American academia profiting from an influx of individuals, who has successfully navigated higher education pipelines in other countries? If so, do those individuals bring education skills that are easily transferable to American institutions? How will the influx impact teaching opportunities in America and the global market for higher education professionals?

  23. Very interesting and enlightening post! Thank you. I can sure see the benefits of internationalization of higher education. I can surely see the benefits of internationalization of higher education. But in some countries, such as the one I live and work at, funding is very hard to attain, and education is very different from more developed countries. It will definitely be hard for institution around the world to become “standardized” in a way, especially when there are different cultures and learning methods existing in each of them.

  24. Kris, I agree that globalization has many positive aspects. However, we have to also ensure that we are doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If we further marginalize groups as we implement globalization, are we looking closely enough at the entire picture?

  25. I agree with this commend: Few higher education institutions would admit that some of the rationales for ‘going international’ are founded equally if not more so in the need to find new sources of funding, in the pressure to keep climbing the prestige ladder and in the race for global talent. We can’t lose sight of our mission and vision on today’s college campus. Student services cannot be jeopardized and the overall quality of the living-learning community we are trying to build for our students, is not working. There must be a collective call to action because mot institutions will change unless there is a visionary leader at the top who is willing and able too take the institution to the next level of excellence.

  26. The internationalization of higher education will do nothing but benefit education here in America. The opportunity to learn from and potentially utilize successful techniques and strategies that are in practice in other countries will have immeasurable benefits over time

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