Commitment to Internationalization: Q&A with Ellen Hazelkorn

Ellen Hazelkorn will be kicking off the Commitment to Internationalization lecture series with her talk, “Internationalization and the Geopolitics of Higher Education,” on Wednesday, November 16, at 4:30 p.m. in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber. This lecture will be in coordination with the UI's vision and strategic themes for campus internationalization. 

Professor Ellen Hazelkorn has worked as a higher education policy consultant and specialist with international organizations and governments for over 15 years, and regularly undertakes strategic and research evaluations and peer review assessments for European and national research/scientific councils and universities. She currently serves as policy advisor to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Emeritus Professor and Director, Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU), Dublin Institute of Technology (Ireland). She is President of EAIR (European Higher Education Society), and on the Advisory Board and the Management Committee, Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE), UCL Institute for Education, in addition to being an International Co-Investigator.

Below is a Q&A with Professor Hazelkorn about the globalization of higher education.

In what ways does globalization broaden higher education?

Globalization’s biggest effect on higher education has been to transform it from a local institution to one of geopolitical significance. The last decade has witnessed a dramatic change in the role, responsibilities, and organisational model of higher education. If the latter decades of the last century were marked by continuing expansion and widening participation – moving firmly from the elite into the universal phase – the 21st century has witnessed the intensification of competition across most sectors raising the profile of knowledge-intense industries, including higher education. Today, our preoccupation with the relative standing of national education systems and universities – illustrated by the growing popularity and obsession with university rankings – reflects the consensus that higher education is essential for economic growth, global competitiveness, and civil society.

Nations and universities are measured according to indicators of global capacity and potential in which comparative and competitive advantages come into play. These developments are leading to noticeable shifts in the world order, creating a single world higher education market. Pursuit of world-class status has pushed up the premium of selective elite research universities, in turn influencing national policy-making, institutional decision-making, stakeholder opinion, academic behaviour, and student choice.

With the onslaught of global rankings, these factors have transformed international education from a focus on the student experience, issues of student/cultural exchange and junior year abroad to consider much broader concerns and challenges of/for higher education. This includes the rising number of students participating in higher education and correspondingly the increasing number of graduates seeking opportunities wherever they find them. Even if graduates don’t leave their home country, they are part of the global economy.

What trends and challenges are currently affecting higher education and how does globalization relate to those challenges?

If the economic crisis illustrated anything, it was the level of interconnectivity between national economies, and the extent to which individual nations found it impossible to isolate or insulate themselves from such phenomena. While individual institutions and nations may pursue their own path, they are part of an internationalised sector. While context is important to understanding different situations and choices, globalization and the internationalization of higher education have led to a remarkable degree of commonality between different jurisdictions which are now experiencing similar challenges. There is much to be learned about how different societies’ universities and (higher) education systems operate, and the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s domains. Ultimately, the choice is one which is best aligned with the overall societal values and objectives for one’s own society and students.

Around the world, recent developments suggest a profound paradigm shift in our support for and model of mass public-funded higher education. The defining characteristic has been globalization, which has transformed higher education from a local institution to one of geopolitical significance. There are several policy trends which are common internationally:

  • Move towards greater government steerage of the higher education and research system;
  • Growing demand for/of higher education at the same time many governments face declining budgets and public resistance to taxation to fund public services;
  • Reshaping of higher education systems with a greater focus on system hierarchy, institutional differentiation, and social stratification;
  • Emphasis on research relevance with strong focus on S&T, and shorter-term impact, innovation and job creation;
  • Increasing focus on developing, attracting, and retaining talent;
  • Greater accountability and transparency via data collection, output and performance metrics;
  • Quality assurance/accreditation increasingly government-driven rather than institutional-led;
  • Shift to greater cost-sharing and using for-profit sector to absorb rising demand and drive efficiencies.

I’ll be discussing some of these trends during my talk.

Which factors are the most important in the creation and success of an internationalized campus?

Internationalization matters for higher education. Student mobility is often the most visible part of internationalization, but internationalization is much more complex and multifaceted. It is equally critical to recognize that not all students are willing or able to spend time abroad. Thus, internationalization at home and on campus is vital. It should seek to

  • Incorporate intercultural and international dimensions into the curriculum, teaching, research and extracurricular activities;
  • Help students develop international and intercultural skills by embracing the concepts of global citizenship;
  • Embed digitalization to establish joint projects and initiatives, seminars, etc. – as integral part of the curriculum.

But this isn’t just about students. It is also vital for educators and researchers to gain greater awareness of global issues, cultures and languages through collaborations and partnerships because issues and problems are no longer nation-bound.

What is the impact of an internationalized university beyond the campus?

The relationship of university to society is not new, but it has been given greater saliency as the challenges facing society have heightened in intensity. We have seen an increasing merging of local and global problems. Recent politico-religious movements (e.g. jihadi extremism), health (e.g. Ebola, Zika virus) and migration (e.g. Mediterranean migration) illustrate the extent to which local or regional issues easily and quickly acquire global implications and influence political/electoral decisions and choices around the world. Conversely, climate change shows how global issues carry significant local effects, e.g. global warming with knock-on effects for food, health, water, and the eco-system. Because solutions can be very complex and can require resolution which may be perceived to go against local concerns, they necessitate a well-informed citizenry. Universities have a social responsibility to ensure that they are not islands of knowledge amidst communities of deprivation.

Internationalization necessitates the university strengthening its role as the anchor institution – not just a tenant in the town or city in which it resides but an active partner. This requires that the university plays its full part as a beacon of social, economic and cultural sustainability and development.

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