International Strategy for Higher Education Institutions

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Posted on by Vicky Lewis

Personal and societal impact

Canadian vistaI was fortunate to be interviewed by Callan Quinn last month (alongside others with fascinating perspectives) for the central feature of The PIE Review (Issue 32). The feature explores Why do we work in international ed? How can we gauge progress and impact of this career choice?

In the article, I share the reasons why I love the work that I do, how I ended up in international education, and (a regular hobby-horse of mine) some thoughts on the ways that universities can measure their international success, beyond the traditional quantitative metrics.

The interview made me reflect on why international education is important to me and what keeps me working in the sector. This blog contains a few additional observations, beyond what’s in the PIE Review article.

Why international education is important to me

Although I was born and brought up in the UK and my dad died when I was 11, both my parents had (separately) worked abroad before I was born (my dad in China and the Middle East, my mum in Africa). They instilled in me from an early age the importance of being open to other cultures and ways of doing things. We would often welcome international students into our home via the HOST UK scheme. I’m sure these childhood experiences helped to fuel my love of travel and languages. 

As I say in the PIE Review article, I have a strong belief in the transformative power of international and intercultural experience. In the course of over 25 years working in international HE, I have seen so many individual examples of people’s life prospects being enhanced as a result of an international education experience. On a much broader level, such experiences are important because they can counteract the narrow-minded, nationalist and sometimes xenophobic tendencies that are evident in societies around the world. And, during the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen the impact of global collaboration when it comes to addressing the big ‘borderless’ challenges that face us all.

It feels like an important responsibility to foster mindsets that embrace that spirit of global collaboration and recognise that diverse perspectives are more effective than mono-cultural ones in so many areas of our lives. 

What keeps me working in the sector

One of the things that keeps me fascinated is the rapid pace of change and the fact that you never stop learning new things. As an international strategy consultant, there are numerous, evolving opportunities to make a difference to institutions – not just via their strategies and operations but often also by helping them to integrate a more international perspective into their outlooks, cultures and behaviours.

I think that some Anglo-centric, Global North institutions are gradually starting to grasp that the western, commercially-driven model of internationalisation that we have pursued for decades deserves to be challenged. They are recognising, for example, the valuable opportunities that exist to engage in equitable partnerships with institutions in the Global South and to learn from their knowledge and experiences as well as sharing ours. There’s increasing understanding that, if we’re going to engage with different countries for the long-term, we need to study their priorities, cultures and aspirations, rather than just plough on in and impose ours.

So, I think it’s an exciting time to be working in international education, with opportunities opening up for new forms of mutually beneficial collaboration and the ability to broaden participation beyond those who are already wealthy and well-travelled.

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