Commitment to Internationalization: Q&A with Kevin Kinser

Kevin Kinser

Kevin Kinser is the second speaker in the Commitment to Internationalization lecture series. His talk, "International University Research Ventures: A Faculty-Focused Agenda for Comprehensive Internationalization," will be on Friday, March 3, at 4:30 p.m. in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber. This lecture continues the conversation about the UI's vision and strategic themes for campus internationalization

RSVP for the event here.

Kevin Kinser heads the Department of Education Policy Studies and is senior scientist in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University. He is also a senior fellow for internationalization at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. A graduate of Columbia University's Teachers College (New York), Kinser studies non-traditional and alternative higher education, particularly the public policies and organizational structures related to private for-profit institutions and international cross-border higher education. Kinser is co-founder of the Cross-Border Education Research Team (C-BERT) which investigates the scope and impact of international branch campuses worldwide. Kinser is the author or editor of four books and more than 70 articles, chapters, and scholarly reports, and he is regularly invited to present his research at conferences in the United States and abroad. Because of his research, Kinser is regularly sought out by national and international media outlets for commentary on for-profit and international higher education. He is currently co-editing a book on U.S. quality assurance called Accreditation on the Edge: Perspectives and Controversies in Higher Education Quality (Johns Hopkins Press).

Below is a Q&A with Dr. Kinser about the globalization of higher education.

What motivated you to focus your research on the globalization of higher education?

I have always been interested in educational innovations and the ways higher education is changing. My research started out looking at online learning for example, and then I moved to the study of for-profit higher education. I became interested in international higher education because of the similarities of the for-profit sector in the U.S. to the global growth of private higher education. Many of the same issues were repeated around the world. Another form of private higher education that I began noticing was in the form of international branch campuses – places where universities from one country were offering degrees in other countries. This led me to look at all of the ways that universities were expanding their footprint, moving from institutions essentially grounded in one particular geographic location to becoming multinational entities with operations around the world. This model of internationalization is really about the changing organization of higher education, and how that impacts its relationship with its home community.

In what ways does globalization broaden higher education?

From a practical perspective, the way in which major universities operate cannot be limited by national boundaries. Science doesn’t work that way and the market for students extends around the world. So universities have to engage globally in order to be successful and remain competitive. From a financial perspective, universities would cut themselves off from revenue sources and be more susceptible to local funding restrictions if they neglect the global nature of their work. And from an educational perspective, gaining cultural competencies by living, working, and studying side by side with others is an important skill to have in an interconnected global community.

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

I’ll mention one trend and one challenge. The trend is technology. The impact of the internet on higher education is undeniable. But it is important to recognize other ways that technology has impacted academic life over the last quarter century. Travel has become incredibly easy and even more incredibly inexpensive. Communication is essentially free. Mobile platforms mean you never have to be disconnected from home. International activities can be seamlessly woven into the curriculum and the campus experience in ways that were impossible only a few years ago. There is a saying that we tend to overestimate the impact of technology in the short run, and underestimate it over the long run. I take this to mean that we don’t simply project trend lines out when it comes to technology. Rather we look for big jumps that fundamentally change how we interact with each other, how we learn, and how we organize our institutions. That makes the future fun to speculate about but hazardous to predict.

The challenge is increasing regionalism and nationalism, and a growing belief that expertise is an elite concept with political associations. Nationalism challenges the fundamental nature of higher education as an enterprise that develops connections between people and ideas, irrespective of nationality. The dismissal of expertise challenges the value of truth as a guiding principle for analyzing problems and developing solutions to them. I will be discussing both of these points at more length in my talk because I think they need to be countered directly and forcefully by the university community.

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

The most important factor is a mission for comprehensive internationalization that is shared by the president, provost, and senior international officer. The mission should not be an adjunct to the primary function of the institution, but something that is reinforced publicly and repeatedly through student recruitment, fundraising, public relations, community outreach, etc.

A second important factor is to make sure the faculty are central to the internationalization agenda. That means taking department and disciplinary culture into consideration, and making research a key part of the internationalization agenda. Whether and how tenure and promotion policies value international contributions should be an explicit conversation on an internationalized campus. The goal should include working from the bottom up, incorporating faculty initiatives into the university’s international agenda, as well as a top down approach that tries to recruit faculty into partnerships that the university designates.

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

I can answer this in several ways. To the local community, an internationalized university provides a center of culture and diversity that improves the “livability” of a region. Internationalized universities also provide the creative energy and talent pool that encourage the development of new businesses to serve a unique commercial demand. Looking abroad, the internationalized campus serves as an ambassador for the United States and its values, and the model of service to society that is central to the American model of education. It can also be a powerful symbol of how community engagement, student development, and applied research are linked through study abroad and exchange programs.