‘Flat’ world reshapes higher education
|Globalization: the integration of countries and people as the result of economic, technological and knowledge advances.
Internationalization: the process of integrating international and multicultural perspectives and experiences into the learning, discovery and engagement mission of higher education.
International education: the full spectrum of educational programs and practices that aid internationalized learning. This includes curriculum, study abroad, international research and scholarship, university engagement and the involvement of international students and scholars on U.S. campuses.
Taken from “A Call to Leadership: Report of the NASULGC Task Force on International Education”
First in an ongoing series
By Mary Carlson
President George W. Bush’s recent State-of-the-Union appeal for increased federal support of math and science education echoed a call first heard in America in 1957, when the Soviet Union sent Sputnik I, the world’s first man-made satellite, into orbit. Sputnik touched off the space race and launched a thousand American fears about being edged out politically, militarily and technologically by its chief rival. Policymakers at the time worried that cultural complacency and insularity had, in the words of one critic, “softened [the nation’s] will and body.” Beefing up math and science education, they believed, was one way to put the United States back on track.
While American anxiety once centered on a basketball-sized satellite, today it revolves around less tangible forces, many of which emanate not from a single rival but from many nations whose power on the world stage is still emerging and yet undeniably felt. In his book, “The World Is Flat,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman sets out what has come to be a familiar theme: once mired in poverty and political stagnation, China and India have become serious players in the global supply chain, helping to “flatten” the world’s playing field. As Friedman sees it, advances in technology and telecommunications, as well as a remaking of the global economy, are forcing the United States and other developed nations to change or fall behind.
Some pundits disagree with Friedman’s vision of India and China’s current economic clout, but the alarm has clearly sounded. U.S. efforts to re-adjust to new economic, social and political realities are well under way, and once again, higher education figures as a principal player in a drama of global proportions.
From small community colleges to the largest research universities, the push to internationalize is shaking up American higher education. A 2004 report by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges stated: “Internationalization is not the latest academic fad, nor is it a simple add-on to existing practice.” It was deemed essential for schools’ survival in the years ahead.
Even though there are no how-to guides and no widely held measures of success, internationalization efforts are already changing how students learn, how professors teach and conduct research, and how administrators lead. The forces driving these changes are complex and interdependent. Rapid technological advances lead to increased global competition for resources and talent. Greater social mobility ushers in new opportunities for cultural exchange. Public health and environmental challenges spill across geographic borders and demand new research alliances. Shifting political realities and the ever-present threat of terrorism call for increased understanding of and sensitivity to cultural differences.
American colleges and universities stand to reap huge benefits, but they also face serious challenges posed in part by structures and practices endemic to American higher education.
Roadblocks at Home
A Carnegie study of academics in the early 1990s found that American faculty ranked very low in terms of their interest in forming international contacts and their belief that knowledge of international scholarship is important. And compared with their counterparts in other countries, American scholars and students tend to be weak in their knowledge of foreign language and cultures. The NASULGC report noted that while foreign language study rose slightly in the 1990s, “the percentage of four-year institutions that have language-degree requirements” has dropped by nearly 30 points since the mid-1960s.
The financial costs of study abroad also can be an obstacle for students, especially those who must use grants, loans or work-study programs to pay their way. Even if students can afford to go overseas, their degree requirements may be so tightly prescribed — particularly for engineering and science majors — that they have few opportunities to do so. In some cases, students are unwilling to leave their home campuses for the uncertainties of life abroad. The rise of terrorism has only compounded those fears.
Other problems hamper the effort to internationalize, including university structures and systems of governance that can stall the efforts of even the most well-intentioned schools. “It’s bureaucratically tricky to do,” said William Quandt, U.Va.’s vice provost for international affairs from 2000-2004, “because schools and departments want to set their own standards. Faculty are difficult to herd. No one likes to be told what they have to do.”
Sending Americans abroad is only part of the evolving calculus of international activity. Bringing foreign researchers and students to U.S. institutions matters just as much. And the pressure to internationalize has sharply increased the competition among schools to attract the best and brightest from overseas. To complicate matters, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government has placed much tighter controls over who comes here and how long they can stay.
Yet despite these hurdles, institutions across the country are making headway. Schools both small and large are testing out new ideas and capitalizing on their existing international resources to create change.
Brantly Womack, a professor of foreign affairs who headed U.Va.’s International Activities Planning Commission from 1998 to 2001, cited Longwood College in Farm-ville, Va., as an example of how schools can make relatively small, common-sensical changes to boost study-abroad participation. “At Longwood, every foreign language major must now go abroad, and they can do it for the cost of going to Longwood.”
Each year the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors, which works worldwide to advance international education and exchange, honors a small group of colleges and universities with the Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization. Recently, it cited Duke University for restoring language requirements for 80 percent of its majors and launching a global executive MBA program with intensive sessions in Durham and locations in Asia, Europe and South America. NAFSA also cited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for its significant investments in internationalizing during an era of fiscal cutbacks among many public schools. UNC now offers more than 275 programs in 68 countries. It’s also building a $26 million global education center to house international student and faculty services, academic instruction and programs, and research under one roof.
The story of how American higher education is internationalizing is by no means complete. No school has perfected the process, yet many stand as models for what seems to work and what remains to be done.
Students themselves are a driving force. Traditionally, those seeking to go abroad have been white, middle-class females majoring in the humanities and choosing European or English-language venues. But that profile is changing.
More students than ever have their sights set on jobs that will take them overseas. As Brian Pusser, Curry School of Education professor, explained, students are quick to respond to new economic realities:
“Students know that the best corporations want people who can work on teams across borders and are sensitive to cultural differences.”
Business majors have been among the most vocal groups urging schools to expand their study abroad opportunities. Yet other disciplines reflect this trend. Rebecca Brown, director of U.Va.’s International Studies office, noted, “Almost every career is going to have some international component to it.”
As more students go abroad, existing curricula must be reshaped to include new global emphases. Dudley Doane, director of U.Va.’s Summer Session program, described how internationalization can bridge gaps between research and class instruction. “Disciplines are internationalizing,” he said. “You find faculty doing more international research, and then that seeps into the curriculum.”
Interdisciplinary study is one tool that many colleges are using to internationalize their curricula. Some study abroad programs combine three or more disciplines, allowing students to apply their knowledge to a wide range of economic, political, cultural and social issues. For instance, at the University of Rhode Island, majors in the International Engineering Program earn a dual degree in engineering and a foreign language. They also spend six months abroad working as an intern for an international company.
U.Va. Accepts the Challenge
At U.Va., the internationalization effort began in earnest in 1998, when the University embarked on a major strategic planning and development program — called “Virginia 2020: Agenda for the Third Century at the University of Virginia.” International activity was one of the four targets that it identified for concentrated progress over the next 20 years.
By early 1999, U.Va. had formed the International Activities Planning Commission, a 25-member group that would chart the initial course for international activity on Grounds and abroad. In fall 2000, IAPC issued a final report, taking stock of where the University stood in terms of international activity and where it meant to go.
“Compared to other universities,” the report said, “the University of Virginia is by no means inactive internationally, but neither is it a leader.” The commission outlined strategies and set benchmarks in order to increase international study and weave it more fully into the fabric of University life.
Virginia 2020 outlines five main objectives for international activities, including the establishment of 10 to 12 self-supporting, faculty-led study abroad programs and the International Institute for American Studies. The report also calls for building U.Va.’s infrastructure to improve services for students and faculty here as well as international students and faculty.
“If U.Va. cannot offer a robust menu of study abroad opportunities,” Brown said, “we can’t attract the best students.” Now several years into its internationalization effort, the University has made gains in several key areas.
When the Virginia 2020 group issued its report, the ISO was a small, part-time office that would be overwhelmed by any increased demands. The time had come to hire a full-time director, who would develop, in Quandt’s words, “an architecture for how we run things” and work to stimulate faculty and student interest. Brown came aboard in 2001 to oversee the office’s expansion and keep her finger on the pulse of international activity not only on Grounds but also at other schools.
During her first year as director, roughly 18 percent of the student body studied abroad. The Virginia 2020 report aimed to have at least 30 percent by 2005. To make good on that goal, President John T. Casteen III allocated funds received from the Continental Tire Bowl for study abroad scholarships. The provost’s office then made these scholarships a permanent part of the ISO budget. As of October 2005, U.Va. had exceeded its goal, climbing to 36 percent. The Institute for Internal Education, a nonprofit group that works to promote international education, ranked U.Va. among the nation’s top 20 schools for overall student participation in international initiatives.
U.Va. took another step toward internationalizing by joining Universitas 21, a worldwide network of 17 research universities that includes McGill University in Canada, the University of Melbourne in Australia, and Peking University. U.Va. is the only member university from the United States.
Another sign that the University is moving closer to meeting its 2020 goals came with the 2003 appointment of Dr. Leigh Grossman to serve as vice provost for international affairs. Having grown up in India, Grossman knows first-hand the rewards and challenges of studying in a foreign country. For her, it’s essential that “students adopt the idea that they are citizens of the world.” Her goals, she said, are to “internationalize the curriculum on Grounds, provide every opportunity for our students to study worldwide and provide mentorship for those students who are interested in international careers.”
In addition to boosting its number of students going abroad, U.Va. now offers more global-focused courses. According to Doane, “At least 25 percent of the  summer session course titles had words like ‘global’ or ‘international’ in them or were foreign language courses.”
Rising student participation and curriculum changes are encouraging signs of growth, but internationalization is about more than just sending students abroad. Providing resources for faculty to go overseas and forge international connections is equally important. And, as Vice President and Provost Gene Block sees it, there is work on Grounds that must be done. “We have to make U.Va. a friendly place for international activities. We have to offer a comfort zone for it.” To achieve this, he said, the University must offer “convenient housing for international scholars and students” as well as “advanced language training and mentoring.”
Currently, U.Va. students can participate in exchange programs in nearly 70 countries. They include long-term immersion programs as well as summer session and two-week, intensive January-term programs. The University also recently announced that it will serve as the academic home for Semester at Sea, a global comparative program that takes approximately 700 students aboard a 24,300-ton ship, or “floating campus,” to such countries as Venezuela, South Africa, Kenya, India and China.
Assessing the University’s progress over the past five years, Womack said that he’s seen “much more systematic encouragement of our own programs.” But he added “U.Va.’s general potential as a top American university is not matched by its international reach or reputation.”
Asked what he hopes to see the University accomplish over the next decade, Block said, “We want to be in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and South America. South America is one area where relationships are ripe for development.” In addition, he would like to “develop strategies for more flexible programs, [ones] that are more nimble and self-sustaining.” Such programs, he added, would not only benefit faculty but would also extend the University’s overall mission. “Building international research collaborations is very important. We’re interested in developing comprehensive programs that integrate research, service and learning.”