About the Author

Ayesha Yousafzai

Ayesha Yousafzai is a PhD Candidate in Higher Education at Virginia Tech. She was born and raised in Pakistan and has been living in the U.S. for the past 16 years. She received her undergraduate degree in Communications and Information Systems from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and completed her Master’s in Student Affairs and Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She pursued her passions for working/helping students and worked for seven years at Duke University as a Residence Coordinator and Academic Advisor.More about Ayesha ...

Most universities across Switzerland have worked actively to retain international students and faculty.Ayesha

Over the last decade internationalization of higher education has become a hot topic nationally and internationally. One of the reasons for this trend is that internationalization of an institution or system reflects the quality of higher education (De Wit, 2002). As a result, higher education institutions across the United States of America and globally are influenced to invest additional recourses to ensure that education systems and institutions stay competitive and focus on improving and creating internationalization initiatives (De Wit, 2013). I start this report by defining internationalization and globalization and identify broad categories of rationales for internationalization. Next, I discuss Internationalization of higher education in the U.S. and in Europe. Lastly, I conclude this report by offering some remarks on internationalization of higher education.

What is Internationalization of Higher Education?

Although internationalization a is major trend currently, it is a largely misunderstood term, and is defined in diverse ways. It is common for individuals to use various terms that only capture a small part of what internationalization empathizes (Altbach, 2015). One common word that is often associated or used interchangeably with internationalization is globalization. Altbach (2015) explains that in broad terms

Globalization refers to trends in higher education that have cross-national implications. These include mass higher education; a global marketplace for students, faculty, and highly educated personnel; and the global reach of the new Internet-based technologies, among others. Internationalization refers to the specific policies and initiatives of countries and individual academic institutions or systems to deal with global trends. Examples of internationalization include policies relating to recruitment of foreign students, collaboration with academic institutions or systems in other countries, and the establishment of branch campuses abroad” (p.6).

These definitions are complex and help to explain the main differences between globalization and internationalization. Thus they should not be used interchangeably. I believe that it is important to understand internationalization and globalization to realize the complex ways in which it is impacting higher education locally, nationally and internationally. Additionally, these terms should not be used interchangeably as context matters.
Implementers of internationalization of higher education enterprises often ask two questions to justify the initiatives: why does internationalization of higher education matter and who benefits from this phenomenon? Reviewing the literature reveals that there are four broad categories of rationales that countries use when implementing plans for internationalization: political (foreign policy, national security, peace and mutual understanding, technical assistance), economic (growth and competitiveness, national education demand, labor market, and financial initiatives), social/cultural (role the universities plays, research, intercultural competence for students and faculty) and academic ( Developing international/intercultural research, training and service, improvement of quality and international academic standards (De Wit, 2002).
Different countries or world regions place greater emphasis on one of these rationales, for some countries the rationales change over time and lastly, they are not mutually exclusive. If the rationales are to be ranked in terms of their importance, economic rationales are the more dominant ones and academic are a close second place (De Wit, 2002). Knight (2008) explains that in recent years there has been a greater institutional emphasis on “international branding and profile, quality enhancement/international standards, income generation, student and staff development, strategic alliances and knowledge production” (p.25).

Internationalization of Higher Education in the U.S.

Higher Education in the U.S. is diverse in terms of types of institutions (public/private), the numbers of students attending these institutions, the types of degrees awarded as well as the mission of the institutions (research, teaching, service) (Hans de Wit, Howard, & Egron-Polak, 2015). There are no national systems of higher education and the systems are decentralized by states. The U.S. Constitution grants the states educational (primary to tertiary) responsibilities (Teichler, 2004). There is a significant difference in the ways in which the various states exert control over public institutions of higher education.
Public education is primarily funded through state/local appropriations with some federal help in the form of federal aid and loans. Institutions that receive federal funding in these forms in reply accept certain influences on higher education policies on the state and institutional levels. Most form of higher education policy influences include certain types of pedagogical practices, research and internationalization initiatives (De Wit, 2010).
Since higher education in the U.S. is decentralized, consequently, states, local communities and institutions also decentralize the internationalization priorities. The higher education community members, students’ expectations, faculty interests, the public need and the interests of the funding donors, shape the internationalization policies and initiatives. On the institutional level, the mission and values of the university dictates some of the internationalization enterprises (Hans de Wit, Howard, & Egron-Polak, 2015). In recent years, to generate revenue possibilities, many institutions are focusing on recruiting more international students and study abroad programs as main internationalization goals. Besides financial, the increase in recruitment of international students (undergraduate and undergraduate) adds to cultural and student diversity with in the academic communities.
In regards to financial burdens for the international students, there are limited financial aid/scholarships and supports available at the institutional, state and federal levels. For students applying to graduate programs (Masters’ and PhD) in the U.S. there is a little more flexibility. International graduate students can secure assistantship (financial funding) through teaching and research with faculty in their disciplines for the time that they are enrolled in the PhD program (average seven years). All most all higher educations institutions have an office (typically called International Services) that facilitates transition and services for international students and these offices play a key role in meeting some of the institutions internationalization goals.

Internationalization of Higher Education in Europe

In the last several decades internationalization of higher education has evolved and is influenced by an increased emphasis on importance of knowledge. As explained earlier, in Europe internationalization enterprises are driven by a combination of various rationales (political, economic, socio-cultural and academic) (De Wit, 2010). More importantly, growth for broader activities and strategic goals towards internationalization has been evident for countries across European universities and countries. Institutions across Europe are developing more systematic approaches and various governments are beginning to take interest to improve economic standing as well as taking action towards innovation and change of the higher education systems (Hans de Wit, Howard, & Egron-Polak, 2015).
Similar to the U.S., funding of higher education remains a challenge for institutions across Europe. In general, education related funding comes from local and central governments. A number of countries across Europe (France, Germany and Switzerland) are financially positioned to have well supported efforts, due to national government support, that makes the internationalization efforts easier to implement. Other countries rely on substantial financial investments from institutional and national resources for these efforts. In countries that are still developing, internationalization efforts are slow as they are reliant on external funds from regional, national or institutional investments. To help with the financial dilemmas, privatization of higher education is becoming a trend across Europe, as there has been a decline in revenue generation from international students (Hans de Wit, Howard, & Egron-Polak, 2015).
From our visit to various universities across Switzerland it is evident that internationalization and globalization has been a focus for almost all of the institutions. The difference is in the ways in which they implement these initiatives. One common trend is a push towards maintaining a global presence. For example; University of Zurich (public institution), significant funding is dedicated towards research and international education. Additionally, there is an increase in international students attending the institution as junior researchers. Other universities have developed graduate programs across regions and institutions. Some of the Swiss institutions have developed joint graduate programs with other institutions while maintaining local and national needs. Most universities across Switzerland have worked actively to retain international students and faculty.


The push towards internationalization of higher education (nationally and internationally) is here to stay. I believe that the decentralized systems in the U.S. and local and central governments in Europe will continue to face financial constraints when trying to implement new and innovative internationalization initiatives. Additionally, both regions, to remain globally competitive and to recruit and retain international talents, will need to make certain changes to the current systems. One of the changes will be to plan ahead when developing strategic programs. Second, collaborate with the governments of other countries to lessen the financial burdens. Lastly, continuing to invest and develop international research that has global benefits.


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  2. De Wit, H. (2013). An introduction to higher education internationalisation.
  3. De Wit, H. (2010). Internationalisation of Higher Education in Europe and its assessment, trends and issues.
  4. Hans de Wit, F. H., Howard, L., & Egron-Polak, E. (2015). Internationalsation of higher education. Directorate-general for internal policies. 1-326. Retrieved from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/540370/IPOL_STU(2015)
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