A New Game Requires Moving the Goalposts for International Education

I’d like to call attention to this excellent analysis by Matthew Clausen, Business Development Advisor to the Texas International Education Consortium (TIEC): https://www.tiec.org/news/rethinking-internationalization-metrics-during-covid19 . I’ve re-worked its title, but, the idea he posits is that Covid has clearly altered the way that international educators view the endgame on our campuses. Clausen has brought together useful metrics and juxtaposed several points of view. For example:

Clausen asks: “Should we take this moment to reconsider what we truly mean by internationalization of higher education? What is the point of internationalization and should we have been limiting ourselves to those narrow metrics all along?” No. And the pandemic has pulled back the curtain on Oz.

Robin Lerner, president and CEO of TIEC, asks: “What are the core takeaways we want for our students from an international experience? Maybe that’s an understanding of how to problem-solve for issues that don’t respect national borders, cultural competency that will serve them later on in the workplace, or the confidence and flexibility that come from students testing themselves outside of their comfort zones. As we design virtual programs, it’s those outcomes of international experience that we need to use as not just our measures of success but our road map.” An excellent statement of what the future of internationalization-at-home might look like.

Cheryl Matherly, Vice Provost for International Affairs at Lehigh University asks: “What does international education look like when it is not defined by mobility?” It is forcing a reconsideration about what is the purpose and what is the aim of what we do in the field. If your sole measure is body count, you are putting a priority on the travel experience.” The new “look” should be one of more equity; one featuring far more diversity of minorities and low-income students sharing in the benefits of intercultural and cross-cultural exploration at home as well as abroad.

Ukiah Busch, director of public private partnerships at Partners of the Americas points out the obvious: “The advantage of virtual exchange is equity, but I don’t think it is as impactful in terms of a personal learning and formative experience, as there is no way to do cultural immersion in a virtual exchange.” I agree, but the advantage of greater equity is not a minor gain for the field which has struggled to democratize access to education abroad for decades!

Lastly, Matherly asks: “If the new programs and pathways that are developed or deepened are always viewed as a poor second to travel, then we will have done a disservice. She puts the charge on the higher education community…It is incumbent on us to make the case. What is ultimately the value of the experience?

My take is that any other case to be made puts forth a false choice to students. It’s not either learn abroad or learn less at home — we can’t overlook how few students have ever participated in international education outside the US [less than 10%]. Higher education must now face up to the fact that very little has been offered to the mass of students not going abroad. Covid presents an opportunity to widely expand similar -but not the same- learning outcomes for ALL students. With the curtain pulled back by this virus, the challenge is clear.

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