What is International in Higher Education? Graduate student surveys schools to find outMatthew S. Brizzi
When Karl Anderson set out to discover how globalism is affecting American higher education and what programs colleges and universities are implementing to internationalize their campuses, he was surprised to find an obvious gap in research on the subject.
Anderson, a Lincoln, Neb., native, is finishing up his final year as a master’s student in the higher education leadership program and decided to use his thesis to fill in this gap after discussing the topic with his adviser, Michael T. Miller, department head and professor in the College of Education and Health Professions. As he read articles on international education and internationalization within the context of higher education, he was unable to find much information on what types of partnerships colleges and universities currently have in place to internationalize their campuses. Most of what he found dealt with study abroad programs.
“The purpose of my thesis is to get an idea of what kind of international partnerships exist, why they exist, who they benefit and to what extent they benefit from them,” Anderson explained. “So it’s not meant to analyze one type of partnership over another, identify a partnership that’s better than another or identify the best partnership. It’s just designed to see what kinds of partnerships exist among the 50 land grant institutions around the country.
“I chose to study land grant institutions because they were easy to identify. Most people have heard of at least the term land grant institution and can identify that they are public schools. Also, I chose them because of their original mission to reach out and assist the community, and I took the liberty of extending that in this day and age to globalized communities. So what role are these land grant institutions going to play in today’s globalized world?”
Anderson developed a survey and sent it to all 50 land grant institutions. He wanted to make the survey as open-ended as possible so the institutions could report any and all international partnerships, however they chose to define them.
“When I decided I wanted to identify the types, value and impetus behind the programs, the survey kind of created itself,” Anderson said. “The institutions know why they created these partnerships, and so we wanted open-ended questions so they could articulate those reasons.”
Anderson received 29 completed surveys, and 15 of the 29 institutions indicated that they had more than 101 international partnerships in place.
After analyzing the answers, he discovered some interesting trends. First on the list is an inconsistency in the data between what institutions say about internationalization and the reality on their campuses.
“I was surprised at how little the institutions seemed to know about the specific types of programs that are going on on their campuses,” Anderson said. “They all expressed how important internationalization is to them, but they have no idea to what extent their campuses are truly internationalized. They can tell you maybe how many programs they have, but they don’t know who runs them or why they were created. It seems to me something like this needs to be centralized as much as it can be.”
Secondly, the survey respondents overwhelmingly indicated that the majority of partnerships benefit faculty and administrators more than students. Study abroad experiences provide direct benefits to students, but other types of international partnerships, like research collaborations, provide more direct benefits to faculty and administrators.
And these beneficiaries seem to want to create international partnerships for different reasons.
“Administrators see creating prestige and visibility as perhaps the most important outcomes of internationalizing their campuses,” Anderson said. “They see it as the more international partnerships we have, the better we’re going to look. I don’t know if it’s completely fair to say that, but from everything I’ve read and from the survey responses, a lot of administrators’ comments deal with prestige and making a name for the institution and not benefits to students. So there seems to be a difference between faculty perceptions of these partnerships and administrative perceptions of these partnerships.”
Faculty are the number one source of international partnership creation and, according to the survey, take the initiative to create them usually because they have a colleague at a foreign institution with whom they want to collaborate, usually on research.
“The extent to which faculty are involved in creating these partnerships surprised me,” Anderson said. “I just didn’t realize that faculty would be that interested or take the initiative to start them. I assumed when I started this study that the impetus would come from the administration down to the faculty.”
Anderson considers his research as the first step in bridging the gap in research on the internationalization of American higher education.
“A future study could look at the best way to create an internationalization plan for a university,” he said. “How do you run 101 plus programs from a central location so you have an idea of what’s going on on your campus?”