International Strategy for Higher Education Institutions

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Posted on by Vicky Lewis

My podcasting debut

Think EducationI had great fun recently chatting to Professor Judith Lamie and Professor Chris Hill as a guest on the International Voices series of their Think Education podcast. If you haven’t come across it yet, do check it out – it’s a great resource and includes conversations with many more illustrious names than mine!

We had a wide-ranging discussion, including:

  • how university international strategies have changed (and are continuing to do so post-pandemic)
  • the things that haven’t changed so much, such as the way success is measured
  • the challenges experienced by institutions wanting to make a long-term positive global impact while also needing to generate income in the short term
  • the importance of joining up international strategy with other supporting strategies and reconciling tensions with – for example – ambitions for environmental sustainability
  • underlying motivations for undertaking transnational education and models of TNE coming to the fore since Covid
  • the shift in the axis of power from West to East
  • increasing regionalisation when it comes to student mobility
  • broad international partnerships beyond HEI-to-HEI, involving organisations and stakeholders in the wider local ecosystem
  • measures of TNE success including graduate employability (and happiness) and stakeholder perceptions
  • the need for a sophisticated institutional appreciation of risk - from University Board level down
  • the changing structures of International Offices with a move to more in-country staff and hubs (with benefits in terms of lower carbon emissions and on-the-ground insight but challenges in terms of ensuring activities are joined up across the globe).

Finally, Judith put me on the spot with her ‘where to from here?’ question. I wanted to end on a positive note and what popped into my head was the recent piece of research by The Policy Institute at King’s College London for the World Values Survey which revealed that UK attitudes to immigration are among the most positive internationally (and have become steadily more positive over recent years) – which provides a useful counterpoint to the impression given by some parts of UK government.

The things I wish I'd said

Of course, I came away thinking of all the points I wish I’d made but didn’t think of at the time.

I could have mentioned the 30 indicators of global engagement used in the Education Insight Global Engagement Index, which can help universities to move beyond some of their standard success measures and into more interesting territory.

I could have shared examples I’ve come across of the way online and hybrid delivery can enhance intercultural collaboration, such as parallel summer schools taking place in different global locations but coming together virtually for a couple of hours a day to discuss a common topic.

I could have talked about the ‘squeezed middle’ of UK HEIs whose reliance on international income makes it particularly challenging to formulate a values-driven strategy for international engagement. Small, new institutions that derive a lower proportion of their income from international sources can start with a relatively blank sheet and build a strategy ‘values-up’. Larger, established, research-intensive universities with global reputations, financial reserves and income streams from a range of sources also enjoy greater latitude. It is the very many institutions that sit between these extremes for whom the challenges are greatest.

However, against that background, I could have drawn on the example of the wonderful UK-Ukraine Twinning Initiative, championed by Universities UK International and coordinated by Cormack Consultacy Group, as an example of the way that so many UK universities are, nonetheless, demonstrating values of international cooperation and solidarity.

Ever shifting priorities

As I found when I wrote my Global Strategies Report back in 2021, the context in which the UK HE sector operates is constantly shifting and – with it – institutional priorities. At the end of the podcast Judith suggested it was time that I produced a Global Strategies Report Part 2 to reflect the latest developments!

Who knows – perhaps that’s a project for 2024?  

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