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Internationalization within the Higher Education Context

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Until now, Asian countries tended to send their human resources to North America, Europe, and Australia.


The posting below gives views of higher education for four regions; Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.  It is from Chapter 1 – Internationalization within the Higher Education Context, in the book, The SAGE Handbook of International Higher Education, by Laura E. Rumbley, Philip G. Altbach, and Liz Reisberg, Published by Corwin, A SAGE Company, 2455 Teller Road, Thousand Oaks, California 91320, (800) 233-9936, A Publication of the Association of International Education Administrators. Published in cooperation with the Journal of Studies in International Education. Copyright © 2012 Sage Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.




Rick Reis

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Internationalization within the Higher Education Context


Box 1.1 A View From Africa

Chika Sehoole

Associate Professor, University of Pretoria (South Africa)

Higher education systems in Africa – as elsewhere – have been directly affected by the rapidly globalizing environment and the resulting growth in internationalization.  While internationalization is often considered a recent phenomenon, it is nothing new to parts of the world, such as Africa, that were once colonized.  Indeed, the internationalization of African education in general (and higher education in particular) is directly related to the colonial experience on this continent.  For example, the first degree-awarding institution in Nigeria was the University of Idaban, established in 1948 as a University College of London. In the same year, the University of the Gold Coast in Ghana was also founded as a University College of London, as was the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, opened after independence in 1961.  The three countries share a common legacy of British colonization.

Contemporary patterns of international student and staff mobility also reflect Africa’s colonial past.  Students and staff who go abroad tend to go to institutions and countries with links to the former colonialists.  For this reason, students from Anglophone African countries will often go to study in the United Kingdom, students and staff from Francophone Africa will flow to France, and those from Lusophone countries will gravitate toward Portugal.

Dependence continues to be an endemic feature of African higher education’s engagement with the rest of the world, most notably in terms of the continent’s widespread reliance on external or foreign assistance.  The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, a consortium of U.S.-based foundations, was a major player in the period 2000 to 2010 supporting internationalization efforts in higher education in countries such as Egypt, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, and Nigeria. Foreign embassies and diplomatic missions also serve as agents of internationalization by offering scholarships and study opportunities for Africans abroad. Meanwhile, transnational organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations have played a major role in higher education in some sub-Saharan countries.  Ethiopia, for example, is benefiting from the bank’s Development Innovation Fund, which supports international institutional linkages, visiting faculty, new and innovative undergraduate and graduate programs, and short-term staff training overseas.

National governments also play a crucial role in the international activities of African higher education. Ministries of various types – such as foreign affairs and home affairs – have oversight in different countries for a range of responsibilities such as determining national human resource needs; negotiating bilateral cooperation agreements that facilitate student, staff, research, and knowledge exchange; and issuing visas and study permits. For example, the Mauritian Ministry of Foreign Affairs negotiates all bilateral cooperation agreements between Mauritius and other countries, including those covering scholarships for Mauritius nationals and branch campuses on its soil.  The governments of Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, and Botswana play similar roles for the higher education sector in their countries.

Despite enormous challenges, African institutions of higher education are adopting many of the same internationalization activities employed at institutions across the world, including institutional partnerships; joint research projects; inbound and outbound student, faculty, and staff mobility; the introduction of international dimensions into the curriculum; the establishment of branch campuses; and transnational virtual delivery of higher education.  Yet, Africa’s place in the global higher education network remains disadvantaged. For example, apart from Egypt and South Africa, the flow of international students is more outbound than inbound for the countries of Africa, and relatively few internationally mobile students and staff return to the continent after completing their studies elsewhere, leading to significant brain drain.  The dominance of English as the lingua franca of international communication, research, and business adds another layer of difficulty for many of Africa’s non-English speaking countries eager to engage with the global knowledge economy and cutting-edge academic networks. The rapid growth of private higher education in Africa – while clearly meeting some needs for access – presents real challenges for quality, a critical issue for international engagement and competitiveness.


Box 1.2 A View From Asia

Yuto Kitamura

Associate Professor, Sophia University (Japan)

Today, the international profile of Asian universities is rising steadily, and the higher education market within Asia is undergoing rapid expansion.  Competition among universities is intensifying beyond national borders, and universities from outside Asia are eagerly launching themselves in Asian countries. It must be noted, however, that the region is far too diverse to be described under the one umbrella term, Asian. On the one hand, in countries like Japan and South Korea, more than half of the respective age cohort goes on to higher education. On the other hand, in some countries in South and Southeast Asia, higher education enrollments remain low and in single figures. Yet, an overview of the state of higher education in Asian countries alerts us to the fact that a considerable number of issues are common to all countries. The most prominent of these is the strong interest in the internationalization of universities.

Until now, Asian countries tended to send their human resources to North America, Europe, and Australia.  Moreover, prestigious universities from those areas have moved to open branch campuses in Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, particularly since the 1990s. Thus, universities in Asia are rapidly undergoing internationalization in an effort not to lose their own students, and students of neighboring countries, to Western universities.  Also, the international recruitment of teaching staff and researchers has become easier today, thanks to a flexible employment system being created by such trends as incorporating universities (notably in Japan and Malaysia) and by making universities self-governing (as seen in Thailand and Indonesia).

Asian countries have endorsed these internationalization initiatives. In Japan, for instance, the government in 2010 inaugurated the Global 30 project, aimed at vastly increasing the number of foreign students in the country.  To enhance international competitiveness in a knowledge-based economy, governments are also targeting focused support on core research facilities to promote the growth of world-class research centers; Project 211 in China, BrainKorea 21 in South Korea, and the Center of Excellence Program in Japan are relevant examples.  In this way, governments are endeavoring to attract excellent researchers regardless of nationality.  Furthermore, internationalization of the higher education market in Asia is stimulating regional political networks – for example, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – to get involved in university issues, thereby speeding up the drive toward regional coordination.  The ASEAN University Network is evidence of this trend.

Many Asian countries are working to boost the international competitiveness of their own universities by focusing on quality assurance efforts. But there is huge variation in quality assurance capacity within the region.  In Southeast Asia, for example, the countries of Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia have already developed or established their own mechanisms for monitoring quality.  By contrast, in countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos, no adequate progress has been made in the design and implementation of effective quality assurance systems. This intraregional gap is a large obstacle in developing a common framework for quality assurance in Southeast Asia. Therefore, organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Quality Network are assisting those member countries with limited capacity to develop further efforts to enhance quality assurance.

For Asian universities to survive and to develop successfully in the international higher education market of the 21st century, each needs to build its own distinctive university profile while meeting global standards.  At the same time, to differentiate themselves from Western universities, they must also delineate features of universities that clearly reflect the unique and multifaceted character of “Asia.”


Box 1.3 A View From Europe

Irina Ferencz

Policy Officer, Academic Cooperation Association (Belgium)

Home to many of the world’s oldest universities, Europe is closely acquainted with internationalization. In fact, one of the core activities of this phenomenon, the international mobility of scholars, has a centuries-long history here.  Nevertheless, only during the past two decades has internationalization moved center stage in Europe, gradually appearing at the core of institutional missions, policies, and strategies.

It remains fairly difficult, if not impossible, to talk about internationalization in Europe in generic terms. “Unity in diversity,” which has famously described much of the political and economic integration in the framework of the European Union, is equally valid in the sphere of higher education.  Indeed “internationalization(s) at different speeds” may be one of the best ways to describe the European context.  First, internationalization itself has been defined differently across the European higher education community – in some cases as the institutional response to the pervasive forces of globalization, in others as the very counterpart to globalization.  Furthermore, European countries and the nearly 4,000 institutions of higher education there find themselves at various stages of internationalization, having initiated these efforts at different moments in time and with different resources at hand.  Countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and the Nordic countries are among the trendsetters in internationalization in Europe and beyond, while many other European countries are only beginning to get their feet wet in this area.

What unites most European higher education institutions is their strong interest in acquiring or enhancing their (unique) international profile and reputation, but there has been some uniformity and joint action. The Bologna Process and the initiatives of the European Union, with its mobility programs (like Erasmus and Erasmus Mundus), have fostered enormous interest in international student (and staff) mobility. The guiding principle here has been that more mobility is both a positive and necessary development. European states have been encouraged to cooperate with other European counterparts in a range of international activities, particularly in terms of mobility and creating joint and double degrees. The trend has been to foster a friendly yet competitive approach with the rest of the world.

Support for internationalization activities has also penetrated the nation-level policy discourse. The governments of several European countries have had strategies for internationalization in place for years now.  In ideal cases, such policies are also in tune with institutional strategies in the country.  National agencies for internationalization like the DAAD (Germany), the British Council (the United Kingdom), CampusFrance, or Nuffic (the Netherlands) play a crucial role in these efforts, and there is a growing tendency to develop such national-level actors across Europe.  Mutual learning is in full swing in this arena. For example, websites of the type “Study in …” have already become widespread, and so has the presence of European actors at promotional fairs and similar events around the world.

Europe currently enjoys a positive global profile. It hosts about half of the world’s mobile student population and has managed to preserve this market share over the past decade, despite growing competition and the multiplication of study destinations worldwide. Yet, there are clear national differences here as well; about two thirds of all foreign students in Europe study in just three countries – the United Kingdom, Germany, and France.  European students who study abroad tend to choose other European countries and only occasionally opt to study outside of Europe.

Many European countries are now shifting from more internationalization to better internationalization, for example, seeking to attract the best and brightest students from abroad, to forge strategic partnerships and alliances, and to measure and assure the quality of international activities. Concerns about the unintended consequences of internationalization are also on the rise, in relation to such issues as brain drain, monolingualism (English as the lingua franca), and the impact of internationalization indicators on public funding of institutions.  Continuing to internationalize with the same level of enthusiasm will require European higher education institutions to deal effectively and creatively with these challenges.


Box 1.4 A View From Latin America

Alma Maldonado-Maldonado

Researcher, Centro de Investigaciones Avanzadas (Mexico)

Latin America is more a cultural category than a geographical one.  Most definitions include only Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries. Although there are French-speaking countries in the region, it is less common for them to be included under the Latin American umbrella. Besides language, other characteristics that define this group of countries are common historical experiences (colonialism and independence), cultural elements, and economic and political developments. Nevertheless, Latin America has many differences of geography, race, and size.  We should therefore be cautious in considering Latin America as a single monolithic region.

One of the most striking characteristics of Latin America higher education institutions is their sense of identity. This derives from a number of sociohistorical events, such as the reform movement that took place in Cordoba, Argentina, in 1918 and subsequent student and intellectual movements.  By then, building a regional identity was a key aspect of the agenda.  Currently, the central issues for Latin American higher education relate to competition, the relevance of the private sector, and accreditation and quality assurance, all with significant international dimensions.  Internationalization itself is evident in three key areas: student mobility, cross-border education activities, and network building and collaboration.  These speak to great potential in the region but are also very real challenges.

In terms of student mobility, the region faces an asymmetric situation with respect to developed countries.  A great many Latin American students go abroad, compared to the far lower number of international students who study in Latin America (with the exception of Cuba, the largest recipient of international students in the region).  Unfortunately, this issue is connected to brain drain.  There is also an imbalance regarding degree seeking and non-degree seeking students: The region receives more of the latter than of the former.

Meanwhile, international providers of higher education services are more and more aware of the potential Latin American market.  The national public and private sectors seem insufficient to satisfy demand, encouraging new providers to focus on the region.  For instance, Laureate International Universities have bought at least 23 universities in Latin America (it also owns 18 in Europe, 4 in Asia, 2 in Australia, and 4 in the United States), and the Apollo group is present in Chile and Mexico.  On the other hand, very few Latin American programs are competitive at the global level.  Although some question the reliability of global rankings, they provide an indication of the international standing of higher education systems and institutions.  It is not a surprise that very few Latin American universities are included in the three most important global rankings.  Only six universities from Brazil and one each from Argentina, Chile, and Mexico appear among the top 400 in the Shanghai Jiao Tong university ranking.  Only one (from Mexico) appears in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education ranking, and just nine Latin American universities (three from Brazil and two each from Argentina, Chile, and Mexico) appear among the top 400 in the U.S. News & World Report standings, the most recent global ranking.

Finally, in the area of establishing collaborative arrangements and building networks, most Latin American higher education institutions are signing inter-institutional agreements with as many universities as they can, but the effectiveness of this practice has been questioned.  There are also attempts to collaborate regionally: for example, the Network of Macro-universities of Latin America and the Caribbean, whose purpose is to connect the largest universities of the region; the Universia network whose goal is to create a Hispanic-American space of socially responsible knowledge; and the Tuning project, which is looking to apply the Tuning methodology used to harmonize European higher education to the Latin American region.

Overall, the main challenge for Latin American higher education institutions seems to be that of moving toward deeper engagement with the knowledge-based economy, instead of remaining at the more traditional level of just “becoming more international” (via such mechanisms as the promotion of academic mobility, participation of cross-border providers, and inter-university collaborations and networks).  It is fair to say that, even in these areas, the region lags far behind the world leaders.  Catching up will require Latin American institutions to begin by enhancing regional links with a medium- to long-term vision that considers the ways these institutions will transcend traditional internationalization to participate more actively in the knowledge based-economy.