Covid-19 disrupted international education, but colleges are hopeful about global engagement

The Covid-19 pandemic was a major disruption to American colleges’ international education efforts, but college leaders surveyed by the American Council on Education remain optimistic about the future of global engagement in higher education.

Sixty percent of colleges said their level of institutional internationalization during the pandemic was low or very low, according to a new report released today, Mapping Internationalization on US Campuses. In contrast, 47 percent of institutions said their international activities had accelerated in the pre-pandemic years 2016-2020.

Nevertheless, academic leaders were positive about future internationalization efforts, with two-thirds predicting that their institution’s overall level of international engagement will increase over the next five years.

Despite this hopeful outlook, the report, the fifth in a series of studies the council has conducted since 2006, shows that the shift away from international education as a campus priority actually began before the pandemic. For example, in 2016, 72 percent of colleges reported that their internationalization efforts were accelerating, compared to only about half of institutions in the years immediately preceding the Covid outbreak.

The number of colleges with international or global education in their mission statements or strategic plans has also decreased over the years. In the 2012 report, 51 percent of respondents said that internationalization is part of their institutional mission. By 2017, the share had dropped to 49 percent. In this latest survey, 43 percent said yes.

The percentage of colleges that reported international education as a top five priority in their strategic plan has also declined over time: 52 percent in 2012, 47 percent in 2017, and just 36 percent in the most recent report.

The authors of the report do not delve into the reasons for this shift, but how Chronicle have previously reported that factors may include continued fiscal exposure following the 2009 recession, a growing awareness of the negative social and economic consequences of globalization, and the critical political and policy environment under the Trump administration, which poses global mobility and an international academic society. partnerships.

There are also questions about whether colleges really institutionalized their commitment to international engagement. Indeed, in the latest report, only 18 percent of respondents said they have a formal strategy for partnering with universities around the world. Only 28 percent answered that they had evaluated the impact of their international activities in the last three years.

Taken together, the findings paint a troubling picture of American colleges de-emphasizing international education at a time when global engagement and collaboration are more important than ever — as the pandemic itself has underscored.

But at the same time, college leaders’ confidence in the future of internationalization points to a possible more optimistic scenario, in which a pandemic-induced pause in many international activities could lead to stronger re-engagement. We may have to wait until the next study to measure this definitively.

In the meantime, here are some additional highlights from the newly released survey, which includes responses from 903 institutions:

College leaders’ experiences and views on global engagement vary by type of institution. For example, doctoral respondents were much more optimistic about the future of international engagement, with 78 percent saying they expect the level of internationalization at their colleges to increase over the next five years. At affiliated colleges, 56 percent had the same positive outlook.

Also, doctoral and baccalaureate institutions were much more likely to include international education in their mission statements than were associate or special focus colleges.

Colleges emphasize education and diversity goals as key drivers of internationalization. While international student tuition has become more critical to colleges’ bottom line, only a third of respondents said “generating revenue for the institution” was the top reason for global involvement, making it a distant fourth choice.

The top two reasons were “improving student readiness for a global era,” selected by 70 percent of respondents, and “diversifying students, faculty, and staff,” cited by 64 percent.

Colleges have increased the support they offer international students both inside and outside the classroom. Three-quarters of respondents reported being oriented toward their institution or the American classroom for international students, up from 69 percent five years earlier. Two-thirds of colleges said they offer individualized academic support services. And more than half said they were providing mental health services to international students, a particularly vulnerable group during the pandemic.

Institutions have increased professional development opportunities for internationalization faculty, such as seminars that help them integrate more international learning outcomes into the curriculum and use technology to increase the international dimension of their courses.

For more information on this report and analysis of news and international education news, see Latitudes, Chronicleglobal newsletter. You can order here.

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