28 March 2014

Engaging the Academy: the Next Frontier?

What role do academic staff play in the internationalisation of your institution? To what extent are they involved in the implementation of your international strategy? What do you know about their motivations to drive or support international education initiatives or to contribute to broader internationalisation endeavours?

These are timely questions, as a growing number of discussions on the role of academic staff in the internationalisation of higher education point to a turning tide in attitudes and awareness.

A report on ‘Leadership Needs in International Higher Education in Australia and Europe’ was published in January 2014 by IEAA and the European Association for International Education (EAIE). Among its findings, the report identifies the effective engagement of academic staff in the process of internationalisation as a key challenge. For Australia, the report also highlights an opportunity to support increased international engagement by Australian university researchers.

At IEAA’s International Research Roundtable in October 2013, participants also agreed that not enough is currently known about how to enhance the international engagement of academic researchers and research students. And both of these calls were echoed by Dennis Murray, IEAA Research Director, in a recent blog post for the LH Martin Institute, where he highlights the attitudes of academic staff towards internationalisation as a particular problem. 

A simple analysis of recent international education conferences perhaps provides further support for these concerns about limited faculty engagement in internationalisation (as it is known in North America). An investigation into the keywords found in session/workshop titles at the major international education conferences in 2013 (AIEA, AIEC, EAIE, Going Global, NAFSA) is particularly telling.

The word cloud above comprises the 30 most frequent words from session titles across all five conferences and presents a strong visual statement of the predominant themes. For cross-cultural consistency and ease of comparison, all references to "internationalization" are normalised to "internationalisation" and all references to "students" normalised to "student". 

The words “international” (217 counts), “education” (141 counts) and “student” (109 counts) all feature over 100 times. The terms “global” and “internationalisation” also rate highly with 85 and 60 counts respectively. 

However, reference to faculty or academic staff is conspicuously absent. Across the five major conferences in 2013, only eight references were made to either “faculty” (in the sense of academic staff, rather than a structural unit) or “academic” (in the sense of a staff member, rather than as an adjective).

So, what does this limited focus on the role of academic staff in the major international education conferences tell us? And, more practically, where can we look for examples of good practice in terms of engaging faculty staff on our campuses?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the US has a long and well-documented history of seeking to engage its faculty in internationalisation. Thirty years ago, a set of 17 case studies was put forward as a guide to successful international programming. These case studies emphasised that an “articulate” and “determined” faculty was crucial to the internationalisation of the curriculum (Backman, 1984). A subsequent Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) publication on internationalisation strategies highlighted that, if the involvement of academic staff in international education was to continue and expand, greater emphasis needed to be placed on faculty development and rewards (Klasek et al, 1992).

Leading on from these and other early guidelines, the American Council on Education (ACE) established its ‘Mapping Internationalization on US Campuses’ Project in 2001 and has since run three surveys designed to assess the state of internationalisation at US institutions. Conducted in 2001, 2006 and 2011, these surveys have included a series of questions on faculty policies and practices. The most recent results paint a mixed picture of institutional commitment to faculty engagement over the past decade. For example, while the percentage of institutions funding international programs and activities for faculty has grown over the life of the survey, it shrank between 2006 and 2011.

Nevertheless, US international education associations appear to remain committed to programs which promote greater faculty engagement. The Spring 2012 edition of the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) Networker magazine focused entirely on “Engaging Faculty in Internationalization”, whilst ACE published two features on faculty engagement in its “Internationalization in Action” web series in Spring and Summer 2013.

In Australia, we do not have the same rich data on which to draw. Yet there is evidently a growing recognition that it might be important to learn more. In its suggestions for future action, the 2014 IEAA-EAIE Leadership Needs report calls for additional research into good practice in faculty engagement with internationalisation, as well as into the attitudes of academic staff towards greater engagement in internationalisation.

Similarly, one of the recommendations from the 2013 IEAA International Research Roundtable was that a group of international education associations – including IEAA, the EAIE, the AIEA, the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE), the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA) and the British Council – develop a joint agenda for priority research. In light of the leadership needs report, it can only be hoped that faculty engagement is high on the agenda.

Coming back to the seeming absence of academic staff from the agendas of the major international education conferences, it is not clear what this tells us. Have they been overlooked? Or are they so embedded and central to the endeavour that they fly under the radar? Hopefully, a commitment to further research by the major associations will make that clearer over time.


Backman, E. L. (Ed.). (1984). Approaches to international education. New York: American Council on Education.

Klasek, C. B., Garavalia, B. J., & Kellerman, K. J. (Eds.). (1992). Bridges to the future: strategies for internationalizing higher education. Association of International Education Administrators.

[Article published in IEAA Vista Magazine, Autumn 2014 edition, March 2014]