By / September 29, 2013

Internationalisation of Higher Education

Globalisation and technological development have an important influence on higher education. On its second page the European Commission’s communication on “European…

© Steve Young / Fotolia

Globalisation and technological development have an important influence on higher education. On its second page the European Commission’s communication on “European higher education in the world” (COM (2013) 499 final) while quoting from a 2008 OECD study (Higher Education to 2030, Volume 1, Demography) shows that over the next twenty years the demand for Higher Education (HE) is expected to grow from the current 99 million students worldwide to 414 million by 2030, with China showing by far the highest increase in recent years followed by Brazil and India.

© Steve Young / Fotolia
© Steve Young / Fotolia

On the other hand HE, is a focal point of the Europe 2020 Strategy as the demand for knowledge and skills acquired internationally is rising. With HE’s impact on innovation and research, it provides the highly skilled human capital that knowledge-based economies need to generate growth and prosperity. A 2010 study requested by the European Commission (“Mapping Member States’ external Education & Training policies and tools” / see also the summary published as a policy brief in 2011) examined the external education policies, instruments and tools in the countries concerned. The study identified 625 instruments: 487 in EU/EEA countries and 138 in Australia, Canada, Japan and the USA.

In May 2010 the Council adopted conclusions on the internationalisation of higher education (2010/C 135/04) in which it recalled the Erasmus programme’s success and stressed the importance of focussing on the support mobility in Higher Education outside of Europe. On 11 July 2013 the European Commission published a communication on European higher education in the world (COM (2013) 499 final / see also the resp. press release) in which it identifies three key areas for a comprehensive internationalisation strategy: Promoting the international mobility of students and staff, Promoting internationalisation at home and digital learning and Strengthening strategic cooperation, partnerships and capacity building, as well as two two policy objectives for EU’s contribution: Increasing the attractiveness of European HE by improving quality and transparency and Increasing worldwide cooperation for innovation and development.The present keysource will provide supplementary material for identifying what is at stake in this subject.


As the field is vast the number of studies is vast as well. Please find below a selection of studies that shed light on the different facets of the subject. I have selected recent publications, and if possible theses, so that the accompanying literature lists will provide a source for further reading.

Literature reviews:

  • International student mobility literature review. / King, Russell, Ahrens, Jill and Findlay, Allan. Final report to HEFCE, and co-funded by the British Council, UK National Agency for Erasmus. Bristol, 2010
  • Higher Education and Economic Development: A Review of the Literature. Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET) / Pillay, Pundy. Wynberg, South Africa, 2011: This literature review examines: the relationship between higher education and economic growth – the implications of a shift in the debate the debate on the role of higher education in the ‘knowledge economy’ – the relationship between higher education and regional development, including the role of universities in innovation – the role of universities and public research institutions as drivers of economic development.

Terminological discussions:

  • Internationalisation of higher education: European experiences. / Teichler, Ulrich. Asia Pacific Education Review (2009) Vol. 10, no. 1, p. 93–106.: “Internationalisation” is generally defined as increasing cross-border activities amidst persistence of borders, while “globalisation” refers to similar activities concurrent to an erosion of borders. Study mobility is viewed as the most visible component in this framework in Europe with ERASMUS as the largest scheme of temporary mobility. ERASMUS was a trigger for a qualitative leap of internationalisation strategies and policies since the 1990s: towards cooperation and mobility on equal terms, and towards systematic and strategic internationalisation.
  • Different perspectives on internationalization in higher education. / Kreber, Carolin. New Directions For Teaching & Learning. 2009(118), p.1-14: “Internationalization” has become a key theme and widespread phenomenon in higher education. The article explores different meanings and motivations underlying the notion of internationalization in higher education, thereby providing a richer conceptual basis from which to appreciate efforts directed at internationalizing the curriculum in particular.
  • Research on Internationalisation in Higher Education. / Kehm, Barbara M., Uluslararas Yükseköretim Kongresi: Yeni Yönelifller ve Sorunlar (UYK-2011) 27-29 May 2011, Istanbul, p. 231-239: The terms “Europeanisation,”, “internationalisation” and “globalisation” are contextualised within the framework of the Bologna Process and the Lisbon Strategy. The article provides an overview about the state of research on internationalisation in higher education by looking at the major themes and how they changed over the last 20 years as well as the main approaches, concepts and methods. One of the main results is that research on internationalisation does not have a “disciplinary home” and – with a few exceptions – tends to be rather policy and practice driven. The article concludes with considerations of a possible future research agenda focusing on four themes: (a) the relationship between centre and periphery; (b) the changing “Zeitgeist”; (c) internationalisation at home; (d) the dialectics of normalisation and specialisation.

Comparative research on the situation in Europe:

  • International student recruitment: policies and developments in selected countries. / Rosa Becker and Renze Kolster. Netherlands organisation for international cooperation in higher education (Nuffic), 2012: This report provides an overview of international student recruitment and mobility policies by national governments in key recruiting and recruitment countries, and to identify the emerging implications of these developments for the Netherlands. The report is targeted at Dutch early-career policymakers at national and institutional levels, early-career marketing officers and researchers in the area of international student mobility. / International student recruitment: policies and developments in selected countries: Sweden, Norway and Finland. / Marianne Cox. Netherlands organisation for international cooperation in higher education (Nuffic), 2012: Annex to the above. It is an addition focussing on three Northern European countries. The study provides an overview of national student recruitment policy in the light of the national education policies of these three countries. This study provides basic background information on recent developments in higher education and the national policy – if in place – on international student recruitment. It also describes the related policy instruments.
  • Applying the varieties of capitalism approach to higher education: a case study of the internationalisation strategies of German and British universities. / Graf, Lukas. Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) Discussion Paper. No. 507, 2008: In recent years the global market for higher education has expanded rapidly while internationalisation strategies have been developed at university, national, as well as European levels, all with the aim to increase the competitiveness of higher education institutions. This paper asks how different institutional settings explain distinct national patterns found in the internationalisation of universities, observed to be based largely on either market coordination or strategic interaction of the involved actors. Insights are that the conceptual toolbox of the Varieties of Capitalism approach can be fruitfully applied to higher education, and that it is possible to enhance the framework by adding the state as a significant factor in differentiation.
  • Internationalization in European Higher Education. / Ritzen Jozef M., Marconi Gabriele. International Journal Of Innovation Science [serial online]. June 2011, 3(2), p. 83-100.: One of the consequences of demographic change is a possible decrease in the European supply of graduates. Europe has to fill the gap in young talented workers. The best way to attract young workers from developing countries (which do not have the infrastructure to provide all their qualified youngsters with the needed human capital) is through the internationalization of higher education in Europe. This challenge is intimately related to that of increasing intra-European mobility. Internationalization is necessary because of the requirements of European labour market and the need to increase European innovation capacity.
  • Erasmus: Impact de la mobilité européenne des enseignants & des personnels administratifs. / Jonathan Hooley, Annick Bonnet, Olivier Steffen. Centre international d’études pédagogiques (CIEP). Bordeaux, 2013: The study’s objective was to evaluate the impact of teaching and training mobility in France. It is framed around three main topics: the impact on beneficiaries, the internationalisation of institutions and the barriers preventing greater participation. The academic year 2010-11 was the period studied.

Comparative research on the situation in the Western World:

  • Joint and Double Degree Programs in the Transatlantic Context: a Survey Report. / Kuder, Matthias, Obst, Daniel. Institute of International Education, 2009: This report examines the key findings of an extensive survey conducted by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and Freie Universität Berlin in spring 2008. Based on responses from 180 higher education institutions in the United States and the European Union, the report assesses the current landscape of transatlantic degree programs and identifies inherent challenges and opportunities of expanding existing or developing new programs.
  • Internationalization strategies in traditional Higher Education institutions across the United States. / Porfirio, Vincent Gerald. Thesis, Sage Colleges, 2012: Higher education executives at the helm of their institutions are tasked with maintaining a competitive advantage in recruiting, retaining, and producing students equipped with twenty-first century skills while simultaneously ensuring their institutions remain viable in an increasingly competitive market. One of the solutions for a number of higher education institutions to meet these objectives is internationalization. This study focused on exploring higher education executives’ perceptions and experiences of the internationalization efforts at institutions that have been identified as highly internationalized. Findings showed that student mobility was identified as the top internationalization strategy and study abroad was perceived to be most effective.
  • Internationalisation of Higher Education and Language Policy: Questions of Quality and Equity, / Hughes, Rebecca. (OECD) Higher Education Management and Policy, Vol. 20/1 (2008): Three major drivers of internationalisation in higher education are student mobility, staff mobility and offshore delivery. Anglophone countries have dominated this process: four English-speaking countries deliver more than 50% of programmes involving students studying abroad. English-medium universities also have strong influence in particular geographical regions: 70% of all Asian students studying abroad are received by three main English-speaking countries (Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States). This leads to questions of equity and quality at national, institutional and individual levels. At national level, non-Anglophone countries may be unable to attract and retain the “brightest and best”. Institutions without a robust language policy, adequate preparatory training and ongoing support may, therefore, damage more than the quality of teaching or their own global brand. This paper discusses the issues involved in the Anglophone asymmetry outlined above.
  • Analysis of the relationship between internationalization and the quality of higher education. / Jang, Ji-Yeung. Thesis, University of Minnesota. 2009: The universal phenomenon of internationalization as a mainstream element of higher education is often based on the assumption that there is value added to the quality of higher education systems when enhancing the international dimension of teaching, research and service. Questioning the validity of the assumption, this study examined the relationship between internationalization and quality of higher education. The research variables included six internationalization variables such as international students, U.S. study abroad, internationalized faculty and scholars, international research activities, internationalized curriculum, and organizational support; and seven quality variables such as research competitiveness, faculty competitiveness, undergraduate competitiveness, advanced training competitiveness, financial stability, constituents’ satisfaction, and institutional reputation. The results showed that there was a positive relationship between internationalization and quality of higher education. Internationalized curriculum was found to have no effect on any quality variables.
  • The Struggle Over Global Higher Education: Actors, Institutions, and Practices. / Kauppi Niilo, Erkkilä Tero. International Political Sociology [serial online]. September 2011, 5(3), p. 314-326: The article examines the intensification, since the creation of the so-called Shanghai list of world universities in June 2003, of a political struggle in which a variety of actors, universities, national governments, and, more recently, supranational institutions have sought to define global higher education. This competition over global higher education has highlighted issues such as the internationalization and denationalization of higher education, the international mobility of students, the role of English language as the language of science, and the privatization of higher education. The article analyzes the symbolic logic of ranking lists in higher education, their uses, and the European Commission’s initiative to create an alternative world university classification.
  • Do partnerships advance internationalisation? / Anna Ciccarelli and Grant Kennett. in: University World News, issue 284, 24 August 2013: It is taken for granted that cross-border university partnerships and agreements work to advance the cause of internationalisation and bring significant opportunities and benefits to students, researchers and administrators. The article argues for a different approach. The methodology for measuring engagement with international partner universities the article refers to cn be found here.

Africa, Arab Countries and Asia:

  • Africa-Europe Higher Education Cooperation for development: meeting regional and global challenges. White Paper. Outcomes and recommendations of the project: “Access to Success: Fostering Trust and Exchange between Europe and Africa“ (2008-2010). / European University Association, Brussels, 2010: The project brought together policy makers, donor agencies and university leaders to address institutional development and to transcend the boundaries between research, education, development policies and programmes. The project embedded the topics of cooperation and development within a wider discussion on higher education modernisation.
  • Bridging the knowledge gap: internationalization and privatization of higher education in the State of Qatar and the Sultanate of Oman. / Brandenburg, Torsten. Thesis Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany, 2012: The work screens the current move in higher education by analyzing the import reform strategies and its implementation in two case studies, in the State of Qatar and the Sultanate of Oman. Interviews with local decision makers and shareholders as well as a systematic desk research were used to analyze the different modes of cross-border educational services which are accompanied by a policy of economic liberalization since the mid 1990s. The reorganization of the educational systems is related to the emergent knowledge-based economy debate in the region. Country-studies reveal that the strategies and the implementation of the higher education reform differ widely in both countries. Qatar promotes a mobility of providers, whereas the funding of higher education remains mostly public. By contrast, Oman’s policy leads to a mobility of academic programs, at the same time the government shifts educational costs to society.
  • EU-China Relations in Higher Education: Building Bridges in Global Cultural Dialogue. / Pinna, Cristina. Asia Europe Journal. December 2009, 7(3-4), p.505-527: The internationalization of higher education systems has become critical to the educational success of a country. The article studies the growing pace of internationalization in Chinese higher education in the contemporary period. The research focuses on the cooperation between China and Europe, especially the management of transnational projects related to improving collaboration between Chinese and European institutions of higher education. The project analyzes the main national policies for enhancing the internationalization of higher education both in China and Europe.
  • Student mobility in progress. / Stolle, Maja. Thesis, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder and University Istanbul, 2009: This thesis investigates the implications of current Europeanization trends in the Turkish higher education system with respect to cross-boarder student mobility triggered by the introduction of the Erasmus program and the Bologna Process. It explores how certain European forms of governance and guidelines have created the setting for institutional policymaking and actions, visualizing the structural and ideological changes at Turkish universities.

Stakeholder views

There are, of course, several stakeholders in the field, from university associations to employers and student associations. Theo selected item is not representative, but it gives an idea of the topics at stake. The topics are also discussed in the above mentioned analytical studies:


Most recent Eurostat statistics presenting 2010 (upper part) and 2011 data (lower part -> scroll down to line 249) on the number of foreign students (total and detailed by citizenship) in tertiary education (ISCED levels 5 and 6). For the role of the Bologna process see: The Bologna Process in Higher Education in Europe: Key indicators on the social dimension and mobility / Eurostat. 2009

The Commission presented a study on the immigration of international students to EU Member States in May 2013 (press release) and thus decribed the broader topic and the relevant policies. The study is available on the European Migration network’s website. There are country figures and the 2013 synthesis report (on top of the list). The report discusses the statistical situation from p. 10 onwards.

OECD has recently published a summary on How is international student mobility shaping up?  (July 2013), which provides figures about the countries from which foreign students are coming. Table 1.8. International tertiary-level students in OECD countries and the Russian Federation, 2004-2010 in the OECD’s International Migration Outlook 2013  provides figures up to 2010.

UNESCO’s statistical institute has prepared a dynamic map which shows the student flows based on figures from their database. [Does not work properly with our version of Internet Explorer]. On the OECD’s statistics pages you may find the figures for 2011 in the left column under the heading Education and Training -> Education and skills -> Foreign/international students enrolled -> International students enrolled / latest year. You may also open this Excel file, which has been downloaded from the OECD website.

Infographics on internationalisation of higher education (pinterest board by CP)

EU programmes and projects

EU programmes in the field of international academic co-operation: Library Keysource on the future of the European Union education and youth programme(s) – summary of legislation for Erasmus Mundussummary of legislation for TempusCommission website on TempusCommission website on other programmes – Commission website on co-operation with industrialised countriesCommission website on activities with candidate and neighbourhood countries – Bologna Policy Forum – PolDep B study on the Bologna process – U-Multirank project and the Library Keysource on the topic.

Related procedures

Parliamentary procedures on the subject of cooperation and agreements in the fields of education, training and youth

Parliamentary procedures on the subject of Universities and higher education

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: