Monday, February 9, 2009

Unintended Consequences of Internationalization

Today we have our fourth guest blogger here at the IHEC Blog. My colleague Erika Mercer from The University of Chicago comments on a recent article by Jane Knight about the unintended consequences of internationalization. Erika’s post follows:

A recent
article by Jane Knight in the Boston College Center for International Higher Education’s quarterly journal International Higher Education examined the unintended consequences of internationalization. One such unintended and often rather problematic consequence she notes is the “rankings race” – institutions competing for prestige through international and regional rankings.

The increased focus on numbers and rankings as a means of determining value in higher and international education is alarming, certainly, as it can take our eyes off of the higher aims and potential of international education. This trend, however, could unfold in interesting ways given the current economic recession. With numbers in international education (enrollments, budgets, etc.) falling as they are in many cases, I wonder whether we might be forced to look away from them as indicators of success and instead look to more abstract (though harder to measure) goals. The silver lining of the current recession may be a window in which we can advocate for meeting the less tangible goals of international education and focus on quality rather than quantity. Idealistic, certainly! But as many of us find ourselves working within smaller budgets (and perhaps with smaller cohorts of students), it may be useful to consider free or inexpensive ways to tailor our programming and educate students about larger, important concepts (for example, citizen diplomacy) -- those hard-to-measure-but-good aspects of internationalization.

In considering Dr. Knight’s article, another unintended consequence of internationalization that comes to mind is the increased need for (obsession with?) accountability. As we’ve seen, the cry for accountability has already echoed through many other facets of higher education. As exchange programs, joint degree programs, etc. grow, we'll feel ever more the need to be transparent and prove legitimacy. This, of course, brings us back to numbers…

Previous IHEC Blog posts focusing on rankings can be found here:

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