By Dr Jean-Bernard Adrey

02 March 2016 - 09:11

'The term "internationalisation", as applied to higher education, used to mean just "having lots of international students".' Photo (c) Mat Wright.
'The term "internationalisation", as applied to higher education, used to mean just "having lots of international students".' Photo ©

Mat Wright.

How can universities develop the best international strategy? We asked Dr Jean-Bernard Adrey, Director of the Centre for Global Engagement at Coventry University, which won the Award for Innovation in Internationalisation of the European Association for International Education in 2014 and the Queen's Award for Enterprise in 2015 in recognition of its international growth and success.

Define 'internationalisation' broadly. The term 'internationalisation', as applied to higher education, used to mean just ‘having lots of international students’. That definition has changed considerably, although it’s still often how it’s reflected in the university rankings. Universities around the world are however moving towards a comprehensive approach to internationalisation. This famously includes transnational education, or TNE, in which students can earn a qualification from an institution when based in another country, such as at an overseas campus. It also includes programmes such as the internationalisation of the curriculum (IoC), which does what it says, and internationalisation at home (IaH), which is broadly about offering various forms of intercultural experiences on campus to those students who don't necessarily go abroad, notably by working with diverse ethnic, religious and national groups from local communities.

Think big. We have grand ambitions. An international perspective is embedded in every layer of the university's operational structure: from heads of department, to course directors, to lecturers, to students. There's a whole web of people inside a university who have an interest in and can benefit from internationalisation. In fact, it's written into our staff's development and training plans. Both lecturers and professional service staff (counsellors, staff in finance, human resources, marketing, estates, and so on) are given the chance to learn languages, attend tailored cultural training, and travel abroad to visit partners.

It goes far beyond recruiting foreign students and staff, running online courses, or opening campuses abroad. We're trying to make sure that all our students have an international experience at every level. This means we have to make the course content reflect the world beyond the UK. And we're encouraging our UK students to travel abroad by developing huge outbound mobility programmes.

Remember why you're doing this. We want to produce graduates and faculty who are confident and sensitive when working in any cultural setting; who understand different perspectives beyond that of their home culture; and who have solid international experience. We want them to gain intercultural competencies (ICC): to be flexible, curious, tolerant and adaptable, and able to communicate and operate appropriately and effectively in multicultural teams and environments. Studies show that students with these qualities get better degrees, better jobs, and better careers. And they love it, so everyone wins.

Every degree should have an international element. When each course is designed or reviewed, we make sure that the international strategy is right at the top of the curriculum. The students always learn about different points of view in other parts of the world. So, for example, by the end of their degree, all our mechanical engineering, graphic design, architecture or nursing students should understand how their specialism is practised in various countries and cultural contexts. Different perspectives are embedded in every layer of the curriculum, so our students don't end up with a monocultural approach. The final course assessments are set up to show whether we've achieved that.

You need money to make it work. You need to put cash into an international strategy; there's no question about this. It costs money to send students abroad, develop infrastructure to support overseas students, design and offer language classes and cultural training schemes, and train personnel to run programmes. We're reinvesting a massive amount of money from the resources that we get from tuition fees into supporting students.

Being international makes you competitive. I joined Coventry University ten years ago, and at some point afterwards, the senior management decided they wanted the university to become more international. Higher education institutions compete to give students the best experience, and we needed something to set us apart. A number of international students were already coming to us because UK universities have a reputation for academic excellence. But that was not enough any more, so we decided that we would offer unheard-of levels of support to make the student and staff experiences more international, both on campus and overseas. We had to think about what else we could offer: internationalisation for all, which results in our graduates getting hired.

It's ok to start small. I'd previously worked on the Leonardo programme, a European international mobility programme. Coventry gave me a team of five people – a small group, but we were enterprising and we worked fast. Now the Centre for Global Engagement has more than 40 staff and manages more than 80 language teachers and intercultural tutors.

You need a plan. First, we set out to find out what was happening already - something that isn't always evident in a big organisation like a university. Next, we started drafting a five-year plan based on our Model for Progression in International Experience, which went on to win an award. With such a big change in strategy, you need to work out how much it will cost; how to persuade academics, management and students; how you'll make sure that your overseas study programmes and curricula are of the right quality, and how to make the change meaningful. To be successful, you need ambition, vision, investment, and metrics.

Measurement is important. When we started in 2008, we found that 40 students were on year-long study abroad programmes, and about 250 had travelled abroad for shorter periods on geography field trips and the like. Compare that with the fact that 784 of our students have registered to study abroad this year, and 5,000 are taking part in some form of short or medium-term overseas experience. That's about a quarter of all our students. It's important to measure your baseline, because that shows how far you've come. By 2020, we want to help half our students travel abroad and encourage all of them to develop intercultural skills as part of our curricular programmes.

You don't have to leave campus to learn about other cultures. A quarter of our students are studying languages. And about 30 per cent of our students are from other countries. We encourage them to share similarities and differences in their backgrounds with our other students. The diversity of students and staff on our campus is a source of cultural capital that we can tap into, to make everyone's university experience more international. Learning about other cultures helps students reflect on systems they've grown up with, and they love taking part in the discussions that follow. They want this opening to the world, this opportunity to engage with each other.

Get good partners. You can't develop a comprehensive international strategy on your own. We're always looking for new academic, research and industry partners who share our ambition to develop global graduates, global leaders, global citizens and global researchers. So do get in touch with us if you share our vision.

Contact Jean-Bernard to find out about potential partnership opportunities, read Coventry University's blog on related matters, and connect with the Centre for Global Engagement on Facebook.

If you are an education world leader, register to attend our Going Global conference, which takes place in Cape Town on 3 to 5 May 2016.

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