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.