Focus on the Presidency: Engaging Governing Boards in Comprehensive Internationalization

By Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran    //    Volume 20,  Number 3   //    May/June 2012

For more than 20 years, American colleges and universities, along with higher education institutions abroad, have been engaged in the process of “internationalization”—defined by Jane Knight of the University of Toronto in International Higher Education (Fall 2003) as the “integration of an international, intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions or delivery of postsecondary education.”

Concomitant with higher education’s engagement in the internationalization process, globalization of the economy and rapid innovations in telecommunications have resulted in increased transnational economic activity and a more sustained and immediate flow of information and ideas. As a result, international educators Uwe Brandenburg and Hans de Witt have argued in the Winter 2011 issue of International Higher Education that it is time “to rethink and redefine the way colleges and universities conceptualize the internationalization of higher education.”

Responding to this charge, John Hudzig, former president of NASFA: Association of International Educators, has suggested in “Comprehensive Internationalization from Concept to Action” (NASFA, 2011) that colleges and universities adopt a more comprehensive, all-encompassing approach to internationalization in which:

  • globally informed content is integrated into the vast majority of courses, curricula, and majors;
  • comparative and global perspectives are integrated into research and scholarship of faculty;
  • the benefits of cross-cultural and comparative understanding are extended through outreach to citizens, businesses, and public officials.”

An institution’s internationalization efforts should go far beyond simply study-abroad programs for students. According to NASFA, “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.” Such an effort would engage every component and constituency group of the institution and requires board oversight, given the implications for institutional mission, strategy and resources.

Yet to what degree are boards prepared and structured to think strategically and to add value to the process of comprehensive internationalization?

In a recent issue brief for the Association of International Education Administrators, “The Role of Boards in Campus Globalization,” Thomas Wyly and Earl Kellogg argue that “the relatively little evidence that exists suggests that with infrequent exceptions, governing boards tend not to be meaningfully engaged in the creation of institutional international affairs strategy, monitoring the results of international initiatives, or collaborating closely with senior international officers.” In a survey of 70 chief international affairs officers, fewer than 10 percent of the respondents indicated that trustees were closely involved in creating and monitoring international strategy. Although the study may be considered preliminary, the initial findings suggest that trustees need to become more engaged in their institutions’ internationalization efforts.

How do boards add value to strategic discussions about comprehensive internationalization? They might ask themselves mission-related questions:

  • What is the institution’s international strategy?
  • How does it relate to the mission and the overall strategic direction of the institution?
  • Are internationalization efforts being appropriately resourced and leveraged?
  • Have learning outcomes related to global competence been clearly articulated?
  • How does the institution provide evidence that such outcomes are being achieved?

And structural questions:

  • How might the work of the board be structured to provide counsel and oversight regarding campus internationalization efforts?
  • Do certain members of the board bring expertise related to internationalization?
  • What provisions have been made to educate the board about the complexities involved in campus internationalization efforts?

We live in an era of increasingly scarce resources, when many campuses are being asked to do more with less as they prepare students to be global citizens in an interdependent, interconnected world. Comprehensive internationalization cannot operate in a vacuum, and boards will need to become engaged in such efforts.

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