Why be an international institution?

Author: Shelly Stevenson, Vice-Chair of the ASIC Accreditation Committee

Going to an international intuition prepares students for modern life by helping them to become a global citizen: someone who understands how the world works by being aware of their place in the world, and understanding cultural differences. This view can create opportunities for collaborative working in the future.

How can you know if you are a truly international institution?

There are several key areas that can show that your institution is international: An overall welcoming environment for the international student, courses with a global focus, international staff and visiting lecturers, networking with other schools or universities worldwide, having a culture of inclusion, and a plan for creating internationalisation. 

An overall welcoming environment for the international student

This would involve international recruitment, naturally, and a comprehensive welcome structure for those unfamiliar with the institution’s country. This would include information about the living costs and living conditions around the university as well as the tuition costs.  Usually there is a packet of information to help the student prepare before they come.

But the most important help from the student’s standpoint, is the welcome and value that the institution gives to the international student when they arrive. Ensuring lecturers have time available to help the student come to grips with a new and most likely foreign learning system is always helpful. Having language classes available to assist them in integrating into the University culture and the country’s culture forestalls any problems. A sure way to help is appointing a fellow student from the home country to assist with integration. 

Usually, there would be someone from the intuition who would be the point of contact for those from particular countries, and preferably someone who spoke the language so that students could discuss any issues comfortably. If no one was available who spoke the language, at the minimum, there should be someone who understood the learning culture of the place of origin.  It can be difficult without a frame of reference to navigate some of the more fraught cultural norms. For example, in some countries, students would never call a lecturer by their first name; in others, it is the norm.

A truly global institution sees this relationship with the international student as part of their overall strategic aim of connecting worldwide. What better way to do this than to welcome those from other countries? Connecting globally is not just about the student’s learning about the land of the school they are going to, but also about the destination school learning about the arriving student’s culture. Real understanding happens when there is connection. Many schools celebrate the difference in creative ways, using the students as ambassadors of their cultures. One such university celebrates many festivals through their student union, inviting everyone to various cultural events, such as Chinese New Year. Students come to the celebration and take part in tasting the food and partake some in some Chinese culture.

Courses with an international focus

The institution has a clear global focus in some of the courses; whether it is global politics, world journalism, or international law; there is space to discover and develop an understanding of different cultural backgrounds and methods. These courses benefit both the institution and the student.

Another good indicator is if there are lectures on intercultural learning or courses taught in other languages. Another is seeing how many foreign language courses are taught.

Some institutions offer conversational language courses, such as Arabic and Mandarin in the UK, for all home students to develop their languages and for the foreign students to meet and assist with the conversation. Some lasting friendships can develop here. This is where connections are created, forming the groundwork for future collaboration.

Many places have begun their global research partnerships in this way, developing into far-reaching environmental applications. This is a pivotal time in a student’s life, meeting people worldwide can change their point of view and career trajectory.

International staff and visiting lecturers

Academic staff that can teach internationally focused courses is another clear indication of a globally focused institution. It’s always good to look at the staff’s national composition, language competencies and international experiences.

Another potential marker is the staff are members of at least one transnational academic or professional institution and have international professional experience outside of the institution. Have they gained degrees from universities in another country? These are all very good signs of a global mindset.

Networking with other universities worldwide

Networking with other schools or universities in neighbouring countries, or collaborative learning groups and projects can help develop new research partnerships. Attending conferences and seminars in other countries is another good idea. These all set the stage for further alliances in the future, for both the school and for the students.

Having a culture of inclusion

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not just about recruitment, though that is important too; it’s about a mindset that is inclusive. What is inclusive? More than just making accommodation for the student but celebrating differences and enjoying the enrichment that a foreign student brings.

For that to happen, there needs to be an institutional culture of inclusion. One of the ways for that to happen is to be part of a network supporting internationalisation, such as the student exchange system. There are many other global networks, depending on your institution’s specialism.

An internationalisation plan

Most institutions that want to expand their work globally have some form of internationalisation plan in place. There are ways of drawing upon the experience of the international staff to enhance the internationalisation initiative, having them work on the plan is always a good idea. Another area to be developed is attendance at other schools and universities research or conference events. Generally, the Vice Chancellor, or other designated representative, attends international events and research conferences and ensures that they regularly meet with schools in other lands.

The plan should have a clear strategy that includes measurable objectives and Key Performance Indicators. This should be incorporated into agreements with partner institutions.

Most importantly, this vision should be shared by all of the staff members and stakeholders.

ASIC are here to help

These are just some of the areas that can be developed to help your school or university become more internationally focused. If you would like assistance to develop your Internationalisation Mission, ASIC can help.

You can view and download our standards and handbook here.

Or contact us to discuss how we can work together to meet your institutions internationalisation goals.