Making Academic Research Accessible-The Case of Research in Higher Education Internationalization

In 2010, more than 4 million students were studying outside their home countries. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, this number may rise to 8 million international higher education students by 2025. This globally mobile population of mainly young people seeking education represents an investment in crucial assets for sending countries, which is essential for future development, prosperity and welfare, as students return home with increased knowledge and skills prepared for global citizenship. For receiving countries, these students bring cultural and intellectual diversity to the institutions and the countries they visit, often representing a source of revenue for those institutions and communities, and in other cases a source of skilled labour in the current knowledge based economy. For sending countries, however, this might be a cause of brain drain and increased dependence.

Mobility of students is only one aspect of internationalization in modern higher education: mobility of institutions (branch campuses), programmes (franchises), researchers and teaching staff are other manifestations. The development of intercultural and international learning outcomes, the internationalization of the curriculum and teaching and learning, are other examples, also described as internationalization at home or the preparation of global professionals and citizens. Branding, reputation building and rankings are yet more aspects related to the internationalization of higher education.

Higher education institutions, governments and other organizations invest heavily in the internationalization of higher education to build research capacity, improve the quality of education of their graduates and build up a workforce for a changing labour market. The demand for knowledge is global.

One area that is still underdeveloped is the study of internationalization of higher education itself: researching and analyzing trends, rationales, comparative developments at the regional and global scale, and outcomes and impacts of internationalization. In many cases, policies are being implemented by institutions and governments without proper knowledge and understanding of the consequences of these actions and policies. More academic research of the effect of international activities is needed. Many questions need to be researched and answered. Do international students improve the quality of the host institution’s programmes? Does the educational programme offer better quality once the curriculum is internationalized? What is the effect on non-natives of teaching and learning in English? How important is the study of foreign languages and of intercultural and international competencies in the current global knowledge society in which we live? What is the impact of a study abroad period for students on a personal and academic level? Does an exchange programme or an internationalized curriculum make graduates more employable and better able to understand the global social issues we are facing, in particular the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals?

We need to visualize the contribution of internationalization to the core of the higher education mission and values. The assessment of outcomes is, however, very complex so we need to share and compare the research done in various countries, exchange the knowledge that has been built, project cross border meta-analysis of the results and outcomes, and design collaborative cross border research projects to increase our knowledge of the effects of internationalization of higher education. An important aspect is the time horizon. Governments tend to have a short time horizon while institutions need to seek long-term longitudinal research on the effects of their international strategy and its implementation.


Internationalization is here to stay and is now firmly on the higher education agenda across the world. Even in times of reduced expenditure by governments, institutions of higher education need to invest in internationalization at all levels of the institution, education and learning, mobility, research and partnerships or even transnational education.

More and more institutions understand that they need to be accountable for their investments and activities—universities can no longer be ivory towers, disconnected from the realities of the world around them. They have a responsibility toward their internal stakeholders such as (international) students, the institutional leadership and staff and faculty and maybe even more towards external stakeholders, such as funding bodies, the local community, taxpayers and government.

To make this accountability possible, research is needed with a focus on input and output, and even more so on the outcomes of internationalization, measured on a longitudinal scale. Increased accountability of internationalization by all stakeholders is essential.


The European Association for International Education (EAIE) is the European centre for expertise, networking and resources in the internationalization of higher education. It is a non-profit, member-led organization serving individuals actively involved in the internationalization of their institutions, and the EAIE sees a role for the organization to foster knowledge based policies and research on internationalization of higher education.

Within the European higher education area (EHEA) there are 6,000 higher education institutions. In total, some 60,000 people in the EHEA are working in internationalization or related fields. The mission of EAIE is to help professionalize our members and to actively serve all those involved in the internationalization of higher education. The association supports these professionals through its annual conferences, training courses and publications. These core offerings of the Association are reinforced by a greater, overarching commitment: to use our respected position in the field to create positive change and promote dynamic collaboration across the entire European higher education arena.

With almost 25 years of experience, the Association is using its solid foundation and expansive network of expertise and resources to help shape the future of international higher education. It enacts change by providing professional input in strategic discussions with key European stakeholders, by working to help build capacity in developing countries, and by providing a wide range of best practices through its expert communities across all aspects of internationalization.

One of these communities is that of researchers in international education, a group of experts and prospect researchers who combine their professional experience with an interest in the study of internationalization. EAIE is also actively involved in several studies with European Union funding on the international and European dimensions of higher education. EAIE works together with several other organizations and associations in the study of international education, such as the International Association of Universities which executes and analyses on a regular basis a survey on the development of internationalization in higher education. Another example is the recent study undertaken in collaboration with the International Education Association of Australia to identify generic and specific leadership capabilities required by international educators in Australia and Europe, with a view to using the research to design appropriate leadership development activities. The report will be launched later this year. EAIE is also setting up working relations with specialist research institutes in international higher education, such as the Centre for Higher Education Internationalization at Università Cattolica Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy, and the Centre for International Higher Education at Boston College in the United States.

EAIE is involved in disseminating research and its application with respect to internationalization. The annual EAIE conference, attended by over 4,500 international education professionals, provides an excellent platform for the dissemination of research (and its application) in more than 150 sessions and workshops. Through its manuals, tools and newsletter it provides information on the “how” of internationalization to its members and the larger community. In its Academy every six months, it provides training modules for the professionalization of its members. Via its cooperation with the publisher Raabe in the EAIE Handbook on Internationalization of Higher Education in Europe, it regularly publishes applied research on a broad range of topics. Furthermore, through its involvement in the Association for Studies in International Education and cooperation with the publisher SAGE, it contributes to the academic study of internationalization via the peer reviewed academic Journal of Studies in International Education.


In 2013, on the occasion of its twenty-fifth conference, EAIE published a book titled Possible futures, the next 25 years of the internationalization of higher education1, in which key international experts discuss the future of internationalization. Some research topics that emerge from this book are the role of collaborative online international learning, virtual mobility and Massive Open Online Courses in shaping the future of international higher education, and a shift from a quantitative to a more qualitative focus on internationalization of higher education.

At the same time, ongoing issues such as degree and credit mobility of students, strategic management of internationalization, national and regional policies for internationalization in comparative perspectives will continue to be the focus of a research agenda. Besides the benefits of internationalization, the risks and unintended consequences such as brain drain, commercialization, and degree and diploma mills, also require further study.

The need for increased cooperation with sister organizations and research institutes to set up joint research which can validate what we and other institutions try to accomplish is clear. The EAIE also sees its role in the dissemination of research related to this field, making knowledge available as much as possible so we can all learn from each other on the path towards the internationalization of higher education.


1    DeWit, Hans, Fiona Hunter, Linda Johnson and Hans-Georg van Liempd, eds. Possible Futures, The Next 25 Years Of The Internationalization Of Higher Education (Amsterdam, European Association For International Education, 2013).