Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advancing research on the internationalization of higher education

by Laura W. Perna, past AERA Division J Vice President and Professor, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

In her recent blog, Division J Vice President Adrianna Kezar called for Division J members to consider the relevancy and importance of topics that we, as a research community, are examining.  Clearly higher education is now facing many important issues that have critical implications for students, faculty, colleges and universities, and society. As higher education researchers, we should be contributing to the understanding of these current and pressing issues through the production of high-quality research that generates useful contributions to knowledge and has relevant and useful implications for policy and practice.

One of the current important issues facing higher education is globalization. As Simon Marginson (2013) writes, “The main new changes of the last 15 years have all been global in character: world university rankings, Mass Online Open Courseware (MOOCs), and the spread of research capacity including the spectacular rise of East Asian science” (p. 1).

Globalization – defined by Phil Altbach (2004) as “the broad economic, technological, and scientific trends that directly affect higher education” – has important implications for higher education; these implications may be categorized as the “internationalization of higher education.”  Altbach defines internationalization as “the specific policies and programs undertaken by governments, academic systems and institutions, and even individual departments to deal with globalization” (pp. 5-6).

Yet, the term “internationalization of higher education” is poorly understood, as it includes many different dimensions and has evolved over time (Perna, 2013).  Understandings of internationalization of higher education also vary based on the “stakeholder” or “unit of analysis,” with students, programs/departments, institutions, nations, and regions viewing internationalization through different lenses. Different groups often apply different approaches to internationalization, as suggested by the varying national approaches to the internationalization of higher education. The internationalization of higher education is influenced not only by globalization, but also by other forces including cultural characteristics, market demand and supply, technology, and more.

These observations about the internationalization of higher education were generated during an April 2013 convening of scholars and practitioners led by AERA’s Division J, in partnership with NAFSA: The Association of International Educators. With financial support from an AERA-sponsored matching-grant program, Division J, and NAFSA, Division J created an initiative designed to achieve two goals: (1) advance production of high-quality research on important dimensions of the internationalization of higher education, and (2) improve the linkages between the creators and users of the research. To achieve these goals, Division J and NAFSA partnered on two activities:

1)    Commission three leading experts on internationalization of higher education to write short reflections that inform a discussion of:  the most important current and emerging dimensions in international education, potentially effective strategies for addressing these issues, the state of research-based knowledge on these strategies, and potential areas for productive future research.  The authors of the commissioned papers were: John Hudzik (Former president NAFSA; professor Michigan State University); Simon Marginson (Professor of International Higher Education at the Institute of Education, University of London); and Ellen Hazelkorn (Professor, Dublin Institute of Technology).

2)    Convene a session at AERA’s 2013 annual meeting to discuss the ideas conveyed in the commissioned papers and generate ideas and recommendations for next steps.  Robert Stableski of NAFSA moderated the discussion. In total, 16 individuals participated, including three leaders of NAFSA; three scholars from non-US higher education institutions; and 10 U.S.-based scholars who study international higher education issues.  

The commissioned papers and summary report are posted on Division J’s website (http://www.aera.net/DivisionJ/KeyInitiatives/tabid/11228/Default.aspx). The summary report describes the central conclusions drawn from the meeting, including elements of an emerging comprehensive research agenda for the internationalization of higher education.

The papers by Ellen Hazeklkorn, John Hudzik, and Simon Marginson identify a number of issues and questions pertaining to the internationalization of higher education. As Ellen Hazelkorn observes in her paper, higher education across the globe is facing critical and fundamental questions pertaining to the “right” number of world-class research universities, the relative roles of government and students in paying the costs of higher education, and the funding of research. Many nations are also challenged to meet a growing demand for higher education and are experiencing increasingly stratified higher education systems. Questions of accountability, measurement of outcomes, rankings, and quality assurance also span national boundaries. In his paper, John Hudzik identifies a number of institution-level concerns, including questions mission, branding, governance, and resource allocation; faculty scholarship and careers; and student learning and employment outcomes.      

Sound familiar? As I’ve been learning through recent opportunities to teach about higher education in Ireland and Hungary and conduct research about higher education in Kazakhstan, many of the core questions and issues facing higher education apply across nations to varying degrees. I’ve learned a great deal about my home nation’s system of higher education by stepping out of my context and probing deeply into other national contexts.

There are many important questions about the internationalization of higher education that should be informed by research. Division J members should be contributing to the production of knowledge that answers these questions.  Such research would benefit from the varying and multiple theoretical frameworks, disciplinary perspectives, and methodological approaches that Division J members use to conduct research.

I hope that Division J members will engage in activities that further advance the production of high-quality relevant research on the internationalization of higher education. I also urge support for other efforts to promote research on the internationalization of higher education, including the Internationalization Task Force that Adrianna created.  Co-chaired by Jenny Lee and Amy Metcalfe, the Internationalization Task Force is charged with encouraging greater attention to international perspectives and increasing the number of Division J members from outside the United States. Through these and other efforts, we, as a community, will be contributing much needed knowledge about one current and important issue facing higher education.

Works Cited
Altbach, P. (2004). Globalisation and the university. Myths and realities in an unequal world. Tertiary Education and Management, 10(1), 3-25.
Hazelkorn, E. (2013, April). Reflections on global problems of higher education: A European perspective. Paper for discussion at the AERA Division J/NAFSA meeting.
Hudzik, J. (2013, April). A potpourri of researchable issues on the internationalization of higher education institutions. Paper for discussion at the AERA Division J/NAFSA meeting.
Marginson, S. (2013, April). The global higher education market and its tensions. Paper for discussion at the AERA Division J/NAFSA meeting.
Perna, L. W. (2013, July). Promoting research on the internationalization of higher education: Summary report of a meeting co-convened by AERA’s Division J and NAFSA.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thinking about needed research

by Adrianna Kezar, AERA Division J Vice President and Professor, University of Southern California Rossier School of Education

I have been attending higher education conferences for 20 years and have seen some important changes.  When I entered the field, most of the research presented focused on four-year elite institutions, diversity and equity issues were rarely raised, policy was a marginal issue – particularly more applied issues, and certain areas of research were more dominant  particularly administrative and management issues.

As I look at the field and its conferences today, research now examines a plethora of institutional types including community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic serving institutions and tribal colleges.  Issues of equity and diversity are quite prevalent if not dominant within the field now.  These are two really important advances that I’ve seen in the field.  However, even as we have become more inclusive of institutional types and the types of individuals studied, our field still is hindered by some fundamental problems that often make the research suffer in sophistication and importance.

Perhaps one of the most significant problems can be seen in the categories or focus of research.  Well over half of the proposals submitted to both AERA Division J, as well as ASHE, focus on students (both development and outcomes).  This might seem natural since our institutions are established for students and the focus of our mission is teaching and learning among students.  Yet to better support students we must understand policy, finances, teaching and learning strategies, governance and decision-making, faculty, staff, and administrators, institutional culture, technology, state and federal systems, and stakeholder groups like accreditation,  policymakers, and disciplinary societies, among many other issues that shape the lives of students and the enterprise or system of higher education.

What is largely missing from our field is a broader systems perspective.  Certainly psychologically oriented studies that examine development are critical to the life of our field, but the overabundance and focus takes away from these other many important areas.  And maybe part of the problem is access to problems of study.  Students are accessible and many of these other systems and groups are less accessible and challenging to study in the rush to finish a dissertation or obtain tenure.  Administrative and management issues that once dominated higher education conferences are now the smallest number of sessions and a decreasing area of research.  There are also few papers focused on finance, policy, legal issues, history, social context, and foundations, and even the area of teaching and learning so central to the mission of our institutions.  Our field cannot thrive without robust research that crosses these many critical areas that shape this broader system.

While there may be more positions and jobs within the student affairs area within our field, that doesn’t mean that studies of students might not be framed with these larger system factors in mind.  Additionally, one can be seen as doing research in service of students by examining finance or administrative issues that have a bearing on students and their success.  It is certainly conceivable that the focus of the field is driven by where jobs are, as well as scholars being sincerely interested in the student experience.  But I hope to challenge the increasing dominance of one issue and one framing to have scholars consider more approaches and topics.

Another issue of concern within the field is the relevancy or importance of topics that are presented.  In a recent survey of our own profession, 70% of respondents noted that they felt that proposals reviewed were not particularly important or relevant.   That is an extremely high number and suggests a problem in terms of the value of the research that we are conducting.  If one were to compare the topics listed as priorities by college presidents or boards, accounts in the media, policymakers or public’s concerns to the topics presented at higher education conferences -- there would be very little overlap.  Key issues like technology, internationalization, for-profit institutions, as well as other new emerging institutional types, affordability,  economic or political trends affecting higher education regulations and legal issues, etc. are rarely the focus in our research.  Maybe there is a lag between practice and research, but the gap seems too large.

And then there are times when we are studying key issues such as retention and completion, access to higher education, and diversity and equity issues that are part of the public policy agenda.  Our field has been responsive to some of the key concerns that exist among the public and policymakers.  And this problem-based and significant research should be encouraged.  Yet, we often continue to conduct studies and repeat findings that are not advancing an area.  The issue of access to higher education is an example of an area that has been delved into deeply and is bearing much less fruit at this point in time.  These areas of research could be meaningfully improved with more meta-analysis of the many existing studies.  Also, examining gaps in our understanding within these well-trod areas is key.  A few researchers are taking new directions such as looking at how public policy can enhance access.  More work in this area should be encouraged.

What do I suggest can be done?  As discussants at conferences, we can help scholars see the connection between their work and the broader system or enterprise and suggest broader framing.  As advisors, we can encourage different topics.  Students may overwhelming want to study the student experience, but we can explain why that may not serve the field or the students they care about.  As a collective, we can routinely ask, what kind of research are we doing and ask if we are ignoring key topics.  And, this advice is personal to me.  There are topics I wanted to study, that interested me that I have not pursued because there was a glut of research in that area and instead I focused on topics where no one else was doing research because that is what was needed.  I certainly would not ask others to do something I was myself not willing to do.  But this direction is what is right for the field as a whole and the higher education enterprise we hope to improve, to understand, and to critique.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Call for Submissions: Now accepting blog submissions for the new AERA Division J blog

Welcome to the new AERA Division J blog: A Community of Higher Ed Scholars!
As our title suggests, our goal is that this blog will become an online community of scholars, a place for Division J members to share their perspectives about important issues facing higher education researchers, practitioners, and institutions.  We aim to inform, but also to inspire thought and discussion about the practice and substance of postsecondary education research.  Blog posts will include posts submitted by AERA Division J members, as well as invited posts about topics pertaining to the work of Division J task forces, committees, meetings, and other initiatives.
Anyone is invited to submit material for consideration and submissions will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.  We hope to receive material from graduate students, faculty members, and higher education practitioners, as well as collaborations among these.  Guidelines for submission can be found under the Guidelines for Submissions tab on the main menu.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me by email at danielbm@usc.edu.
Dan Maxey, Division J Social Media Chair

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The fall issue of The Pen is now online!

This issues includes:
  • Internationalizing our Perspective on Higher Education by AERA Division J Vice President Adrianna Kezar
  • Guidelines for nominations for the Outstanding Dissertation Award
  • When Teaching Online, Plan for Change by Claire Major, The University of Alabama 
  • And, other announcements...
Click here to access the fall edition of The Pen.