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Internationalisation is the adaptive strategic response to an institution or nation to the forces of globalization, which itself is a process of increasing interdependence and interconnectedness among countries. No country or sector or institution is immune to the process of globalisation, including higher education.
More internationalization naturally leads to more globalization, thus creating a virtuous cycle, which helps explain the increasing pace of change of the two phenomena. Internationalization involves both push and pull factors, and as such it is both a planned response and a reactive process by institutions (i.e both a cause and effect).
Internationalization can also be viewed as the integration of globalization into the tripartite mission – such as teaching, research, and service – of the university. This response is operationalised through an institution’s formal internationalization strategy – an institutional plan with specific goals and measurable objectives as well as the means by which to measure its progress (i.e. the degree of internationalization).
In an increasingly globalized knowledge community, it is important for institutions to create a formal strategy based on a systematic research-based analysis of the international higher education landscape.
A hyper connected world
As a virtuous cycle, internationalization and globalization are flip sides of the same coin called a “hyper connected world”. As such, internationalization is both driving and responding to the increased demand for higher education worldwide.
The internationalization of higher education manifests itself in many ways, such as:
• Cross-border inter-institutional partnerships, for example, research partnerships, twinning or franchise arrangements, and overseas branches;
• The exporting of educational services worldwide, for example, global course delivery, and study abroad;
• Implementing a global dimension into the core activities and initiatives of the institution, for example, internationalizing the curriculum and learning experiences.
At the very least, internationalization requires that universities acquire intercultural competencies and it imposes new demands on universities at all levels, thus expanding their mission, vision and core institutional values.
However, internationalization is not solely the geographic extension of an institution across national borders. It is also the internal transformation of an institution to make it more globalized in all respects.
For global universities, aided by advances in technology and the reduction of international trade barriers and travel restrictions, the production of learning and the delivery of knowledge through teaching, research and service are no longer restricted by the traditional barriers of space and time.
Although globalization is commonly viewed as an economic process through increased trade and more intertwined global economic systems, it also involves socio-political processes.
Since economic systems are embedded within larger socio-political systems, it follows that socio-political systems are also impacted by globalization and internationalization. Thus, globalization, internationalization and democratization – as a socio-political process and system – are interrelated in complex yet complementary ways.
International HE as a positive force
The playing field for most universities is now the global landscape. As such, many universities are multinational organizations wherein they have comprehensive internationalization strategies to better address the increasingly competitive nature of international student and faculty recruitment, among other factors.
Of course, there are serious concerns – for example, the escalating price of tuition, swelling student loan debt, the growing number of low-paid contingent faculty – in some countries that must be addressed.
However, the answer to these problems will not be found by restricting access to higher education or by curbing the flow of higher education across national borders but rather by increasing the availability (supply) of high quality and meaningful higher education through innovation and diversification, in order to meet the burgeoning global demand for higher education.
For these reasons, international higher education is a worthy goal to pursue in its own right and at every level: international, national, institutional and individual. For instance, international scholar programmes such as the Fulbright Program continue to yield huge benefits by improving international relations and intercultural understanding between nations.
As one benchmark of its success in doing this, the Fulbright Program has produced perhaps more Nobel laureates than any other academic scholarship and international exchange programme in the world.
The world needs more programmes like this, not less, and concomitantly the world needs more international higher education, not less.
For instance, organizations such as the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association and the International Association of Universities, among others, are aimed at improving international understanding through improving higher education development and capacity building.
These organizations include a diverse network of international educators from vastly different cultures and institutions who come together to explore new ways to develop international higher education through sharing of knowledge and collaborative research projects.
Strengthening democracies
Increasing the availability of international education should not only help nations become more economically competitive, which is important for economic growth and job creation, but it should also help strengthen democratic societies also.
In the reference of Democratizing Higher Education, research shows that international higher education has been an important vehicle to not only help meet the growing global demand for higher education but also to serve as a positive force for democratizing societies by providing a natural vehicle through which students, faculty, administrators and others increase their intercultural understanding and cooperation.
The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Democracy states that “a sustained state of democracy requires a democratic climate and culture constantly nurtured and reinforced by education and other vehicles of culture and information”. And that “the principles of democracy must be applied to the international management of issues of global interest…”.
Within this context, the internationalization of higher education is a positive force for strengthening democratic societies around the world because it serves as a main vehicle for lifelong learning and because it is a needed component for extending the democratic social contract to all people. As the world moves further into the 21st century, higher education will play an increasingly important role in the world.

Masud A Khan is Founder Chairman of Better Bangladesh Foundation, a think-tank and a development organisation