Acta Universitatis Danubius. Relationes Internationales, Vol 7, No 1 (2014)

Internationalization of Higher Education:

An Imperative for the 21st Century Global Society

Professor Steve O. Michael, PhD,

Arcadia University, USA

Assistant Professor Haniye Sadat Sajadi, PhD,

Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

Abstract: Globalization, considered by many to be the inevitable wave of the future, is frequently confused with internationalization, but is in fact something totally different. Internationalization refers to the increasing importance of international trade, international relations, treaties, alliances, etc. Inter-national, of course, means between or among nations. The basic unit remains the nation, even as relations among nations become increasingly necessary and important. Globalization refers to global economic integration of many formerly national economies into one global economy, mainly by free trade and free capital mobility, but also by easy or uncontrolled migration.

Keywords: higher education; global society; globalization


Today’s breaking news (mid-summer of 2014) on CNN drew the attention of listeners to the demise of the Malaysian Airline in Ukraine, the belligerent attitude of the Russian President, Vladimar Putin, the explosion in United Nations’ school in Gaza that killed innocent children as a result of the escalation of war between Israel and Hamas, and the demise of the Algerian Airline in West Africa! The breaking news was followed by weather forecast that reported activities in the Atlantic ocean that might develop into an hurricane with impact on the Caribbean and ultimately the US and eventually Europe. After some bombardment of commercials as a comic relief, CNN returned with the business highlights across the globe.

In less than ten minutes, over a dozen countries were mentioned on issues that ranged from environment to economy, from terrorism to territorialism, from security to the politics of sexuality, raising the question what are the expectations for the ordinary man and woman living in a global society? Is this just news of far away places with little or nothing to do with an ordinary American or Asian or European or African? Seriously, are we being told all this just to prove CNN’s prowess in spreading its conglomerate tentacles around the globe, poking its American nose where it does not belong?

Perhaps there is an assumption that the news is important to us not because we are Americans, Middle Easterners, Asians, Europeans or Africans, but primarily because we are educated beings living in today’s world. In which case, the assumption raises another question for those whose preoccupation is to educate the mind; what exactly are the implications of these expectations in preparing a globally educated citizen? The purpose of this article is to raise a provocative question regarding college education in a global society: is the college graduate prepared adequately for the world ahead? While it may be presumptuous and perhaps academically arrogant for anyone to claim possession of satisfactory answers to the question, it is nonetheless possible to identify dimensions of internationalization that are pertinent in preparing the global citizen.

Controversial Terms

The author is aptly aware of those who develop acid reflux on hearing the term “global citizen” primarily because they associate the word “citizen” with nationality and since the world does not issue a certificate of citizenship to anyone, the use of the term global citizen is rather improbable and preposterous. While a certificate of citizenship serves a legal purpose, it is the roles, rights and obligations of belonging to a nation that demonstrate active citizenship. Thus, to the extent that there is an increasing demand for global roles, rights, and obligations on us, to that extent we demonstrate our global citizenship.

Be that as it may, the growing literature is also riddled with confusion regarding globalization and internationalization. In today’s technologized world, readers would not be surprised that we have websites for virtually everything on earth; hence, the idea of a “difference” is fathomable. The website stated that globalization is a process of integrating the local with the global (ideas, practices, cultures, etc), while internationalization is extending products, services, ideas across the border.1 The, on the other hand, sees globalization as a consequence of technology that interconnects the world economies and cultures; while internationalization refers to economics activities between or among nations.2 The more scholarly write-ups on the differences between globalization and internationalization adopt a more intellectual approach. For example, Daly (1999) stated that:

Globalization, considered by many to be the inevitable wave of the future, is frequently confused with internationalization, but is in fact something totally different. Internationalization refers to the increasing importance of international trade, international relations, treaties, alliances, etc. Inter-national, of course, means between or among nations. The basic unit remains the nation, even as relations among nations become increasingly necessary and important. Globalization refers to global economic integration of many formerly national economies into one global economy, mainly by free trade and free capital mobility, but also by easy or uncontrolled migration. It is the effective erasure of national boundaries for economic purposes. International trade (governed by comparative advantage) becomes interregional trade (governed by absolute advantage). What was many becomes one.3

Wendy M. Jeffus wrestles with the differences between the two concepts in her Survey of the Theories of Globalization:

This survey seeks to address theories of globalization. Globalization has been defined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the increasing integration of economies around the world, particularly through trade and financial flows. (IMF, 2000) As economies become integrated issues emerge with regards to the benefits and costs of such integration and which outweighs the other…..

The distinction between international and global business can be viewed as a distinction between an internationalization process in which economic activities are extended across national boundaries and a globalization process in which economic activity is also functionally integrated. From this definition two groups exist. First, the hyperglobalists argue that we live in a borderless world where the word “national” is no longer relevant. Giddens (1999) writes “Globalization is political, technological and cultural, as well as economic.” (Dicken, 1998) The second group [is] skeptics who believe that we live in an international world in which national forces remain highly significant. Ruigrok and van Tulder (1995) write “Globalization seems to be as much an overstatement as it is an ideology and an analytical concept.” (Dicken, 1998).4

The International Association of Universities states that:

Internationalization is an integral part of a continuous process of change in higher education; increasingly it is becoming a central motor of change. Its importance has grown along with the more general developments of globalization, offering new opportunities but also posing new challenges. Discussions among policy makers, higher education leaders and stakeholders and ongoing research have shown that the expansion of internationalization has brought with it questions about its meaning, its impact on learning as well as on the nature of relations among institutions.5

It is obvious that the last word on the similarity or differences between globalization and international is yet to be uttered. But one thing is becoming apparent, each sector, each industry will adopt a different approach to their definitions and implications. In higher education, some view globalization as context and internationalization as a process or a means to an end. In my view, globalization has two aspects, the first is the transnational curricular experience and the second is the curricular completeness. Internationalization, on the other hand, refers to the educational efforts to expand curricular experiences across national borders.

Changing Higher Education

That time is changing is a cliché, but it is perhaps more true in higher education today than any other time in the history of the modern university. Obviously, there are many forces responsible for the changes in higher education, but three of interest in this article are technology, globalization, and the growing global demand for the college educated.


Technology continues to have profound impact on the knowledge industry. The convergence of innovation resulting in hand held devices that are capable of performing remarkable tasks has continued to forced educators to re-conceptualize how knowledge is packaged, delivered, and assessed. Technological innovations are not only responding to the changing student profiles, they are also culprit or catalyst in creating new or changing student profiles. Today’s students are more mobile and more wired than any time in the history of higher education.

Most college libraries have fewer books in their collections than a few decades ago. As more information is stored electronically, fewer printed materials are in circulation. Thus, more information is accessible electronically today than ever before. This fact alone radically changes how both the faculty and their students interact with content. Not only is information more electronic today, the quality or the richness of the information is by far more superior than printed materials of yesteryears as one is able to combine sound with video and text.

The growing miniaturization of devices and their affordable costs mean more people have access to them. The more people have access to them, the greater the changes in their lifestyles. Technology is not only putting information on our fingertips, it is also redefining how we use our fingertips.


Several factors are responsible for the growing globalization. For sure, technology is playing a leading role by interconnecting people across the globe and rendering the previously fortified borders porous. The growing popularity of democratic values and the market economy is playing a major role in creating a global society. Also, the growing integration of world economies has thrust us into a huge global economy. In addition, changing government attitudes and liberalization of foreign policies are altogether shrinking the globe and making the world a smaller place.

Even though, higher education activities have direct or indirect role in the creation of global society, the implications of globalization for higher education itself continues to receive little attention in academia. There are several reasons for this. Most higher education leaders were educated in a world remarkably different from today; hence, they lead in the best way they know how. Higher education institutions have always engaged in some international activities; hence, they mistakenly equate these activities with internationalization needed in a global world. The business sector is actively responding to the opportunities provided by the global market because of their need for more capital, to expand demand, and to increase their margins. The higher education sector lags behind in being able to articulate succinctly the benefits of internationalization to the bottom line. What bottom line? Some institutions see internationalization as adding to their cost with no tangibles to show for it. Only a few institutions seem to see internationalization as quintessential to the 21st century mission of preparing global scholars and leaders.

Global Demand for College Education – Global Scholars

Yet, there continues to be a dramatic increase for college education as the world continues to demand the labor of the college educated. There was a time, a time not too long ago, when a high school diploma was sufficient for people to gain respectable employment and rise through the corporate ladders to live a comfortable life. In the United States, that time is long gone. Baccalaureate degree has become the old high school diploma. Consequently, the demand for college education is on the rise. Aisha Labi (2009) remarked that “Higher-education systems around the world have experienced tremendous growth in recent years, in a phenomenon a new report calls an unprecedented global “academic revolution.” 6

The increase in demand for college education has overwhelmed the public higher education sector in many countries. This has led to a change in government attitude toward the private higher education sector. More countries are beginning to see the private higher educator not only as an ally in their effort to provide college education to meet the rising demand, but as critical to realizing a more vibrant, effective, and efficient higher education system. Similarly, the increasing demand for college education has led to a dramatic increase in across border participation. According to UNESCO, “The rise in internationally mobile students reflects growing university enrolment around the world. In 2012, at least 4 million students went abroad to study, up from 2 million in 2000, representing 1.8% of all tertiary enrolments or 2 in 10 students globally.” UNESCO further provides the top ten destinations and the top ten origins of students crossing borders for tertiary-level education:

Top 10 destination countries:

  • United States (18% of total mobile students);

  • United Kingdom (11%);

  • France (7%);

  • Australia (6%);

  • Germany (5%);

  • Russian Federation (4%);

  • Japan (4%);

  • Canada (3%);

  • China (2%);

  • Italy (2%).

Top 10 countries of origin of mobile students:

  • China (694,400 students studying abroad);

  • India (189,500);

  • Republic of Korea (123,700);

  • Germany (117,600);

  • Saudi Arabia (62,500);

  • France (62,400);

  • United States (58,100);

  • Malaysia (55,600);

  • Viet Nam (53,800);

  • Iran (51,600).7

These data have implications for higher education. On the one hand, dramatic increases in across border demand for college education may be seen as indicative of the growing globalization. On the other hand, these increases may be, in part, the impetus for the growing globalization.

Given these changes, technology, globalization, and the rising demand for the college educated, how are higher education institutions responding? Or better still, how should higher education institutions respond in this new environment?

International Activities in Higher Education

At about 1860, Cardinal John Newman conceived a vision of a university that is an assemblage of strangers from everywhere with no geographical or national restrictions.8 From the beginning of the modern university, the idea of a community of scholar that is transnational was embraced even though the mechanisms to realize this goal were never resourced as a strategic mission of the citadel. John K. Hudzik observed that “higher education internationalization is not a new concept—scholars and students have been crossing international borders for centuries.” Hudzik went further to quote Alan Ruby (2009), “it is fairly ‘accepted wisdom’ that from a year 2000 base there will be a 150 percent increase in higher education seats globally to 250 million by 2025, mostly in the “developing world,” and a more than doubling of student mobility from the current three to more than seven million annually by the same time, if not earlier.” 9

Although, higher education institutions’ doors are generally open to qualified international students, the benefits that these students bring to their institutions are seldom tapped. From the beginning, institutions did not recruit strategically overseas. Students who studied in these institutions found their ways there and the onus was upon them to adapt to their new environment. In the western world, the largest recipient of the international student migration, there is a special academic arrogance that seems to suggest, “come and learn from us” without the effort to make this group of culturally diverse scholars partners.

But that was in the beginning. In the US today, international recruitment is a million dollar business with institutions having varying degrees of sophisticated machines to woo, attract, and enroll this typically higher paying customers. While the means of attracting and enrolling international students has grown in sophistication, progress with their integration into the community of scholars in such a way that the host institutions and community can benefit from their cultural knowledge is miniscule.

The second most prominent international activity in higher education is study abroad as a part of college education, a program developed to expose domestic students to life in another country. In the US arguably one of the leading exporters of study abroad participants, the top five destinations in 2000 and 2012 are presented on Table 1and 2. Although, the number of the US students that studied abroad in the top 15 destinations increased by over 69% from 2000 to 2012, the leading destinations only changed a little with the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and France having uncontested positions.

Table 1. The Top Five Destinations and the Proportions of the Top 15 Destinations (108,561)


Number of Students


United Kingdom















In 1999-2001, 108,561 American students studied abroad in the top 15 countries, out of which about 27% of them went to United Kingdom, about 13% went to Spain, about 12% to Italy, about 11% went to France, and about 7 percent went to Mexico.

Table 2. The Top Five Destinations and the Proportions of the Top 15 Destinations (184,128)


Number of students


United Kingdom















About 12 years later, the pattern of destinations remained very much the same with the exception of the growing popularity of China, which became the fifth top destination for American students. Over 184,000 students studied in the top 15 destinations out of which about 19% studied in the United Kingdom, 16% in Italy, 14% in Spain, 9% in France, and 8% in China.

The growing popularity of study abroad programs among American students since the Second World War is a step in the right direction. However, the traditional top destinations for the majority of American students continue to remain the same. The growing global society necessitates a rethink of the American study abroad programming. Europe as a popular destination offers much education to American students after the Second World War. However, the benefit of the experience pales in comparison to the wealth of cultural education opportunities in other parts of the globe - Africa, Eastern Europe, Middle East for example.

The more popular a destination is, the more likely a voluntary study abroad program is touristic and the less likely students are being challenged to confront their comfort zones. While growth is possible anywhere and everywhere, institutions need to be intentional and strategic if they are to meet the educational need of a global society.

Comprehensive Internationalization

Since Cardinal Newman called for a university inhabited by strangers from all around the world, universities have adopted an ideology, albeit unheralded, that talents are randomly distributed among people irrespective of where they hail and it is the role of the university to attract these talents for further refinement, redirection, and recognition all to the benefit of humanity. Consequently, as we have noted above, credible universities all around the world always have scholars that hail beyond their borders.

However, the urgent need of a global society calls for a radical departure from the lopsided international student migratory pattern. It calls for a radical departure from the cavalier or sometime nonchalant institutional attitude to international activities of the past. There is an urgent call for a more strategic and comprehensive internationalization agenda such that would enable institutions prepare and produce graduates sufficiently equipped to function in a growing global market.

For example in Iran, most medical science universities have recently established special offices to focus on international affairs and to promote international collaboration. These offices are set up to support all international activities of the university, including developing close partnerships across the world, developing suitable and enforceable policy for expanding meaningful and effective activities in the international scientific community, recruiting talented and qualified international students and providing them with high standard education, and integrating an international and global dimension into the activities of the university. This new development is to enable universities to develop agreements with international institutions of higher learning, expand and strengthen ties with leading universities worldwide, establish exchange programs and joint degrees in strategic fields, develop research partnerships with institutions outside the country, and to attract international students and scholars to the country.10 While all this is a step in the right direction, a fundamental shift of paradigm is necessary for Iran to fully reap the benefits of globalization.

The public policy frameworks of the past are inadequate to deal with the emerging issues and problems in a growing global society as it is clearly being exhibited by President Vladimar Putin’s responses to Ukrainian situation. The Cold-War Russia may have sent chills down the spines of people across the globe, but only the post Cold-War Russia that is and can be beloved by people across the globe. The global society is a freer society or should be, it is a smaller neighborhood, it is a more integrated network of systems, it is a world being reoriented toward global labor force, and a world yearning for citizens, scholars, and leaders who are able to feel truly at home in this new world.

Institutions oriented to respond to the call of globalization are in the forefront of adopting and implementing comprehensive internationalization. Hudzik and McCarthy asked “what is comprehensive internationalization?” and in response to their question stated:

  • Commitment and action to integrate international, global and comparative content and perspective throughout the teaching, research and service missions of higher education.

  • Achieving benefits in core learning and discovery outcomes.

  • Becomes an institutional imperative not just a desirable possibility. 11

In a follow up publication entitled Comprehensive Internationalization: From Concept to Action, Hudzik provided a more comprehensive definition:

Comprehensive internationalization is a commitment, confirmed through action, to infuse international and comparative perspectives throughout the teaching, research, and service missions of higher education. It shapes institutional ethos and values and touches the entire higher education enterprise. It is essential that it be embraced by institutional leadership, governance, faculty, students, and all academic service and support units. It is an institutional imperative, not just a desirable possibility.

Comprehensive internationalization not only impacts all of campus life but the institution’s external frames of reference, partnerships, and relations. The global reconfiguration of economies, systems of trade, research, and communication, and the impact of global forces on local life, dramatically expand the need for comprehensive internationalization and the motivations and purposes driving it. 12

Preparing students for the global society requires a comprehensive internationalization approach. Realizing this, the American Council on Education (ACE) provided the following outline to guide institutions’ efforts:

  • Articulated Institutional Commitment, which requires internationalization strategic planning, a committee to provide implementation oversight, the use of the campus stakeholders to address internationalization issues, and conducting a comprehensive assessment.

  • Administrative Structure and Staffing, which entails President, Chief Academic Officer’s and other senior leaders’ involvement; and establishment of International Office capable of providing effective campus leadership to international initiatives.

  • Curriculum, Co-curriculum, and Learning Outcomes, which include general education requirements, international courses in each discipline, co-curricular activities to support curricular experience, student learning outcomes as a part of the overall learning outcome goals of students, and technology utilized in ways that enhance global learning. 

  • Faculty Policies and Practices, which require inclusion of international criteria in the tenure and promotion consideration, hiring guidelines that promote international diversity, faculty mobility that encourages teaching abroad and international faculty experiences, and on-campus professional development aimed at enabling faculty to internationalize their roles and responsibilities.

  • Student Mobility, which entails the ease of credit transfer for study abroad purposes, financial aid to lessen financial burden on students, orientation and re-entry programs to help students leverage their experiences, and ongoing support and programs for international students.

  • Collaboration and Partnerships, which require good strategic planning, careful and strategic selection of partners, development of formal agreements, assessment of partnership, and partnership tracking. 13

In the recent IAU 4th Global Survey entitled Internationalization Higher Education: Growing Expectations, Fundamental Values, Egron-Polak and Hudson (2014) provided a summary of 1,336 participating institutions from 131 countries. The highlights of the findings include the following:

  • internationalization continues to grow in importance among higher education institutions.

  • most senior leaders of these institutions remain the primary drivers.

  • majority of the participating institutions have or are developing policies to guide the implementation of internationalization and have supportive infrastructure in place.

  • internationalization has fairly clear priority targeting student learning and mobility with student knowledge and appreciation of international issues seen as the most significant expected benefit.

  • Institutions place emphasis on academic goals and student access to international education in spite of the growing commodification and commercialization of education.

  • Finance remains a perceived obstacle to internationalization progress.14

Conclusion and Recommendations

The literature on globalization and internationalization in higher education is still in its infancy, but growing fast. University leaders interested in making progress in their efforts to meet the challenge of globalization and to fulfill their mission to a shrinking world will find plethora of relevant and useful insights from the literature. While not exhaustive, the list of recommendations below provides a starting point for campus conversations irrespective of the location of the higher education institution:

  • Embrace globalization and internationalization. The inevitability of globalization should prompt higher education leaders to examine its implications for their institutions. One does not need to be a hyperglobalist to understand and respond constructively to these implications. Those who yearn for the yesteryears of isolation and ultranationalism are swimming against the global tide, the current of which no one can prevail. There is a need for a fundamental change in our conception of the globe, the world, and humanity.

  • Realize the inadequacy of our current curricula. The urgency associated with the need to change and embrace globalization and internationalization stems from the realization that today’s college experience is inadequate for the world that lies ahead of us. The content is not robust enough, the paradigm is not sufficiently global, the pedagogy is not adequately diverse, and the overall experience does not encapsulate the globe sufficiently for global leadership.

  • Change the world by embracing the mission of global leadership. The mission of higher education institutions must include the preparation and production of global leaders irrespective of their disciplines. In our new world, a well educated engineer is one prepared to be a global engineer; a well educated medical doctor is one educated in global medicine; a well educated mathematician is one who is able to apply himself or herself anywhere around the world.

  • Be strategic with the internationalization agenda. In higher education, internationalization is both a means and an end. We educate our students for a global society while being locally relevant. We do so by internationalizing their experiences and activities connecting the classroom to the world beyond our borders and at the end, producing graduates who feel at home wherever their expertise takes them.

  • Embrace comprehensive internationalization. The usual sporadic, disjointed, and reactive international activities found on many campuses are not only archaic but grossly misleading in that they sometimes create the illusion of progress. Internationalization is not just recruiting international students, it goes more than that; it is not only sending students abroad, it goes more than that; and it is not merely sending faculty to international conferences, it certainly goes more than that. When a student enrolls on a campus, he or she must find the world waiting on the campus and through the campus must be able to connect with a larger world beyond the borders. Upon graduation, the student must be sufficiently knowledgeable about the world, especially as it relates to their specializations and disciplines and comfortable enough to apply themselves transnationally.

  • Internationalize the stakeholders. While the IAU survey says that the most senior university leaders are the prime drivers of internationalization, true and enduring progress will only be made to the extent that the faculty becomes the natural drivers of internationalization efforts on their campuses. A well-internationalized faculty will inevitably internationalize their content and pedagogy in a way that will transform their students. A well-internationalized group of staff and administrators will create a campus climate that is not only receptive to international activities and ethos, but that promote and celebrate humanity. In the United States, the overwhelming majority of the boards of trustees have no international representation and many of these trustees have little or no international vision. Since the board of trustees hire presidents in the US, it is no surprise that few of the American college presidents have serious international backgrounds or can profess cogent internationalization vision for their campuses. Yet, we can only give what we have. If these leaders do not have international background, the extent of their international agenda for their campuses may be limited.

  • Develop an internationalization strategic plan. A plan provides a road map and forces several questions: where are we headed? (if we do not know where we are going, all roads will lead there); how are we getting there? (resources limited in supply can only be prioritized in relation to goals); and how do we ascertain progress? (any journey that takes several years to accomplish certainly requires milestones to confirm progress). In addition, strategic planning provides an opportunity to establish common agenda, for corporate education, and to create a community that reasons together. Institutions that are new to internationalization strategic planning are well advised to seek assistance of international consultants who are capable of playing a neutral role and providing precious insights that those native to the campus often overlook.

  • Monitor for progress. Internationalization will not happen without concerted efforts on the part of institutional leaders and campus stakeholders. Most faculty will continue to do what they have been doing for years unless the reward system is altered to incentivize commitment to internationalization. Goals must be set by units and strategies must be formulated by unit leaders. Resources must be prioritized to ensure successful implementation. But above all, criteria must be developed to measure progress and comprehensive internationalization requires comprehensive assessment too.

  • Encourage government participation and leadership. This last point is often missing in the literature on higher education internationalization. Experience with the Pennsylvania Department of Commerce’ effort in opening up opportunities in India and China for Pennsylvania colleges and universities reveals that there are many creative ways governments can promote internationalization.15 Governments can first and foremost remove policy impediments that tend to hinder the movement and interaction of scholars across borders. Second and more important, governments can promote across borders higher education activities. The case in Pennsylvania, led by the Department of Commerce, brought institutions together like a consortium and focused their efforts to one or two countries at a time, and proceeded by assisting these institutions with a special envoy in India that facilitated institutional partnerships.

Progressive governments should begin to ask: to what extent is the higher education oriented to produce global leaders? How strategic are the higher education institutions in responding to global challenges? What is the nation’s share of the international student market? Where are the traditional destinations of our students and how can we broaden the list? What roles can the government play to further assist and promote higher education internationalization?

In conclusion, the once upon a time faraway places are now close to the neighborhood - so close that we are now in a position to touch and be touched by events half way across the globe. Our economies are increasingly integrated and our politics are interlocking. Suddenly we are discovering that our differences are somewhat superficial and our destiny is remarkably intertwined. Cultures, religions, and ideologies may provide difference lenses for observing and interpreting reality, but we are all in the same boat adrift in the ocean of life. Unfortunately, there is no going back to the antediluvian days of global ignorance, isolation, and darkness. In this new world, we must ask what is it to be educated? What does it take to be a global citizen? How do we educate the global scholar? What is the education for global leadership? These and many more questions will be the preoccupation of university leaders across the globe in the coming decades.




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