AIEA: Leaders in International Higher Education
In my final blog on the Sage Handbook of international Higher Education, I thought it appropriate to review some of the concluding themes in the volume’s final chapter.
The editors noted that several large themes seemed to be driving international education into the future. These include: competition for international ranking and prestige; the impact of technology on virtual mobility and collaboration; the portability of higher education from institution to institution (including credit for experiential learning); the privatization of higher education through new kinds of partnerships; and, indeed, the reconceptualization of international education itself.
Inevitably, the final chapter understated several key developments I admit to a U.S.-centric perspective on these trends, but I think they are important globally nonetheless.
First, on a practical level, the dramatic influx of Chinese students into the U.S. and other receiving countries will have as yet unforeseen impacts on receiving campuses. There have been imbalances in the demographics of the international student population in the past, but nothing like what’s happening today. A fact: The number of Chinese students studying in the U.S. In 2012-13 (235,600) is greater than all international students who studied in the U.S. in 1977-78. The tsunami will likely ebb, but the numbers are unprecedented. One noticeable change is the rapidly increasing hiring of faculty with Chinese expertise in diverse disciplines. Realignments in global dynamics are being reflected on the broader campus culture worldwide.
Second, as international education has moved from the periphery toward the center of decision-making on many campuses, a process has unfolded that has both shifted the oversight of international education and transformed priorities in the field. After a period of centralization of the main international functions in the 1990’s, the process moved in a different direction in the new century. That is, there were now many new campus players in the international arena at the dean/college, department and administrative levels. Maintaining some level of centralization where there was potential legal or financial exposure (e.g., visa management or study abroad health and safety protocols) required a status for the Senior International Officer (SIO) that could enforce compliance across the campus. Stimulating international offices to develop revenue streams and to encourage cross campus collaboration required someone with a decidedly entrepreneurial makeup and track record. Where was the strongest fiscal, marketing and entrepreneurial infrastructure and culture located? Twenty years ago the reporting issue was whether international should report to the Provost (academic) or to student affairs (support services). Although this questions surfaces from time to time – especially in small, private colleges – it is increasingly passé to the field at large. It is no accident that the vast majority of campuses in the California State University (CSU) system place international under outreach or distance education. A recently appointed SIO at a major public university who came out of an outreach background was asked: “Do you see your new role as mainly entrepreneurial or academic?” Without hesitation, he answered: “entrepreneurial.” The ground is shifting in the field of international education leadership and management.
Third, MOOCs, which were not even mentioned in the 2012 SAGE Handbook, have rapidly developed and just as rapidly developed heated controversy. They certainly have engaged many, many thousands of students, professionals and others in a novel kind of learning. The richness of the course discussion, especially for courses with global content, is unlike what is found in most U.S. classrooms. But MOOCs appear to be reaching mainly an advantaged population and thus fall short of the more grandiose hopes that accompanied their launch. Moreover, academic achievement may not match more traditional face-to-face teaching and learning. But there is little doubt that such innovations as the “flipped” classroom is a product of the spread of MOOCs across the higher education landscape. Despite the trashing of MOOCs by faculty senates, senior administrators can hardly be expected to turn away from a teaching mode that offers new ways to grapple with remediation, on the one hand, and institutional “branding,” on the other. Will MOOCs bring about a realignment of faculty rewards and incentives, as well as the basis of academic credit? Stay tuned.
The future of the three trends noted here is itself uncertain. The Chinese tsunami will likely slow; campus realignments have a way in going in waves; MOOCs may evolve into just a corporate training tool. Highlighting these few features of international education only demonstrates again that the field continues to be dynamic and challenging for its ever more diverse range of practitioners and learners.
John D. Heyl, PhD
Vice President for Strategic Partnerships