Making the Global Vision Real

Supporting Faculty-Led Internationalization Efforts

Topics: International Student Recruitment, Globalization, Academic Affairs, International Partnerships, International Branch Campuses, Curriculum Internationalization, International Support Offices

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As colleges and universities make increasing global engagement a top institutional priority, many have struggled to manage rising levels of international activity. Council research finds that the challenge lies not in convincing faculty to expend more effort but instead in reducing the level of effort required by faculty who are already interested in promoting international activities.

The vast majority of international activity must originate from faculty initiative, but relying on faculty effort alone leads to limited impact-uncoordinated growth, subscale initiatives, and duplicative activities. Faculty go in a thousand different directions based solely on their own research and teaching interests, resulting in greater risk, higher costs, and less impact.

Best practice institutions provide engaged faculty and students with the administrative tools they need to support their chosen activities, reducing the costs and risks of additional activity. Faculty still lead, but administrators make it easier and safer for them (and for the institution). Comprehensive support is defined by five administrative core competencies.

  • Mapping International Activity
  • Promoting Faculty-Led Study Abroad
  • Supporting International Research
  • Approving International Partnerships
  • Building Strategic International Partnerships

The study provides detailed case studies and toolkits for each of the five core competencies.

Executive Summary

Top Lessons from the Research

Balancing Central Coordination and Faculty Entrepreneurship

#1 Administrative Complexity Limits Global Engagement

As more colleges and universities make increasing global engagement a top institutional priority, many have struggled to manage rising levels of international activity. The more internationally engaged the institution, the greater the complexity, costs, and risks that must be managed by faculty and staff who typically (and understandably) have other day-to-day priorities. Administrative friction grows faster than the volume of activity, making additional expansion even more difficult.

#2 Low Incidence, but High Complexity

International administrative issues create a particular challenge for universities because they involve highly specialized, low volume activities (international research, international education, international recruiting) that require coordination across multiple units. Existing units are not set up to handle them, but their volume is not enough to warrant the creation of entirely new dedicated international administrative units.

#3 Centralization Necessary but Not Sufficient

In recent years, responsibility for internationalization has shifted from individual faculty or academic units to the central administration. Many institutions have created a strategic plan for internationalization and appointed a senior international officer (SIO), recognizing the need to set institutional goals and to coordinate activities across academic units. But many are finding progress against their goals is more difficult than initially expected.

#4 The Limits of Cheerleading

A common perspective is that the provost and other senior administrators should play the role of cheerleaders, constantly reiterating the institution’s commitment to internationalization. Even when successful, the cheerleading approach leads to an increase in uncoordinated activity and frustrated faculty, students, and staff who are regularly exhorted to do more without sufficient resources or support.

#5 No Lack of Will

Council research finds that the challenge lies not in convincing faculty to expend more effort but instead in reducing the level of effort required by faculty who are already interested in promoting international activities.

#6 Faculty Must Lead

While the growing commitment to ambitious internationalization goals has manifested itself in the more active involvement of senior administrators, ultimately the faculty must drive internationalization. Faculty know the regions in which they work, and they, not administrators, have direct relationships with faculty at foreign institutions. Perhaps most importantly, the faculty are the ones who will actually perform most of the activities involved in internationalization from teaching students, to collaborating on research, to developing new service activities.

#7 But Faculty Need Support and Guidance

While the vast majority of international activity must originate from faculty initiative, relying on faculty effort alone leads to limited impact—uncoordinated growth, subscale initiatives, and duplicative activities. The result is sub-optimal from the institution’s perspective as faculty go in a thousand different directions based solely on their own research and teaching interests, resulting in greater risk, higher costs, and less impact.

#8 Removing Barriers to Faculty-led Activity

The alternative approach provides engaged faculty and students with the administrative tools they need to support their chosen activities, reducing the costs and risks of additional activity. Faculty still lead, but administrators make it easier and safer for them (and for the institution). Comprehensive support is defined by fi ve administrative core competencies.

#9 The Five Administrative Core Competencies of the Global University:

  • Mapping International Activity
  • Promoting Faculty-Led Study Abroad
  • Supporting International Research
  • Approving International Partnerships
  • Building Strategic International Partnerships
I. Mapping International Activity

#10 Internationalization is an Information Problem

While most institutions are already engaged in a broad range of international activities, few can say exactly what faculty are currently doing and where they are doing it. This lack of information limits the ability of administrators to identify institutional strengths, provide focused support for faculty, or to manage the risks of internationalization. Universities cannot manage what they cannot measure.

#11 Silos of Information

Integrating and analyzing comprehensive information on internationalization activity is a challenge because data is disbursed across campus. Each unit manages information about its own activities, in its own formats, with little connection to the rest of the institution.

#12 The Knowledge Management Death Spiral

Many universities have attempted campus-wide surveys of international engagement, but such periodic efforts fail to provide ongoing, up-to-date information on the scope and scale of faculty activity. Any manual survey, not matter how comprehensive, is out of date by the time it is complete.

#13 Practice #1: International Activity Database

Effective institutions build systems that capture and classify information on international activities in the normal course of business. Individual administrative units continue to manage their own data. All data is coded by country and institution and integrated in a central database, allowing administrators, faculty, and students to search related activities.

#14 There are five steps to implementing the international activity database:


#15 Identify International Activities for Tracking

Information with an international component exists across many units on campus, including data on faculty research, student study abroad destinations, international feeder schools, or courses with an international focus. Identifying the different types of data, their formats, and their owners, is a critical first step towards integrating and making it useful.

#16 Create Standard International Data Codes

A standard university-wide set of country and institution codes allows information from multiple units to be integrated. Often the codes can be applied to existing data entry efforts without creating additional administrative work.

#17 Require Faculty to Provide Data

When data is not captured in the normal course of business, a policy change may be needed to require faculty and staff to input the data. Tracking official travel by faculty and staff, for example, rarely works without an explicit requirement (often linked to travel approval, advances, or reimbursement).

#18 Simplify Faculty Data Entry

Typically, the greatest challenge in capturing data on international activity is getting faculty to keep information on their scholarship up-to-date. Such data is critical for identifying institutional strengths and emerging collaboration opportunities, but faculty are rarely willing to invest significant time updating their research profi les. Policy requirements are not always effective here. One approach is to reduce the burden on faculty by making it easier for them to keep their information up to date. Real success comes only by showing faculty it is in their interest to share information on their international activities with others outside of their narrow discipline.

#19 Surface Emerging International Opportunities

Once the data has been captured and coded, it can be used by administrators, faculty, and even students to identify trends and opportunities for research collaboration, institutional partnerships, student exchanges, and international recruiting. Bringing transparency to existing activities can have a transformative effect on internationalization.

II. Promoting Faculty-Led Study Abroad

#20 Short-Term, Faculty-led Study Abroad Driving Growth

In an effort to increase the number of their students who study abroad, many institutions have grown faculty-led study abroad programs significantly. Programs of 8 weeks or less duration now represent more than 55% of all students who go abroad.

#21 Administrative Barriers Limit Growth in Short-term Study Abroad

While mid-length and long-term study abroad programs are typically managed by administrators at the home institution as well as at foreign sites, short-term faculty-led programs put the burden on individual faculty members to design, plan, budget, and manage most aspects of the trip. Few faculty members have the expertise, much less the time, to successfully lead a program on their own. When those burdens become too large, faculty are no longer willing to participate, limiting opportunities for students to travel abroad.

#22 Practice #2: One-Stop Support for Faculty-Led Study Abroad

The success of faculty-led study abroad programs depends on the willingness of faculty to design and lead trips, and the ability of the university to keep faculty and students safe. Leading institutions provide comprehensive support to faculty through all stages of the process, reducing both the bureaucratic burden on faculty as well as the risks to students. They build replicable processes and templates, streamlining the necessary administrative steps so that faculty can focus on creating academically valuable programs.

#23 There are four steps to building one-stop support for faculty-led study abroad:

#24 Create a Comprehensive Process Map

A major challenge for many faculty is simply knowing what steps need to be followed to design and plan a short-term study abroad program. A comprehensive process map ensures that they know everything that is expected of them at each stage in the process—from planning, to recruiting, to preparing for travel, while abroad, and after returning. It can include links to a range of tools and templates. The checklist minimizes the burden on faculty while at the same time ensuring that proper procedures are followed.

#25 Provide Financial Management Support

A common frustration for faculty is the diffi culty of managing the budget for a program in the face of unpredictable costs, fluctuating currency exchange rates, and piles of receipts to be reconciled after the trip. Administrators can reduce the burden by providing budget templates and sample budgets, cash advances, and easier reimbursement.

#26 Establish an Emergency Management Policy

One of the greatest concerns for both faculty program leaders and central administrators is planning for and responding to emergency situations while abroad. Successful institutions leverage a multi-layered approach to risk management, laying out clear policies at the institutional level, evaluating individual programs, training program leaders, orienting participants, and responding immediately to specific incidents.

#27 Set Minimum Academic Standards

Efforts to develop numerous study abroad options and to attract growing numbers of students can lead to programs with questionable academic merit. Faculty require guidance and oversight including limits on the number of destinations in a given trip, clearly defined learning outcomes, and evidence of student work while abroad.

III. Supporting International Research

#28 International Research Becomes a Multinational Enterprise

While faculty have long engaged in international research, the scale of these activities has changed over the past decade. In the past, most research could be accomplished through short trips abroad by faculty and graduate students. Increasingly, universities are building permanent research facilities overseas and hiring foreign staff. As universities become business owners and employers in other countries, they are exposed to the complexities of international business regulation.

#29 No Single Owner for International Research Administration Issues

Administrative issues related to international research commonly cross existing reporting lines. Even a simple question from a faculty member can require coordination across multiple administrative units. With no single owner, such issues are difficult and time consuming to resolve. When faculty are left to manage complex administrative issues on their own, they are less likely to pursue international research or more likely to pursue it in a way that creates additional risks—both for the faculty member and for the institution.

#30 Practice #3: The Global Administrative Support Network

Successful universities create an internal network of staff from different administrative units who are jointly responsible for developing new processes to address the complexities of global research. They provide a toolkit for managing common issues as well as a network of global vendors with specialized expertise in areas such as law, human resources, or emergency management.

#31 There are three steps to building a global administrative support network:

#32 Designate an Administrative Support Team

Rather than create a separate administrative team to handle specialized international issues, effective institutions leverage existing staff in a network organization, designating experts in all relevant administrative units. The university need not hire new administrators or even provide significant new training. Publicly designating existing staff as experts allocates responsibility and indicates where to go for answers.

#33 Create a Global Operations Toolkit

It falls to the global support team to identify and prioritize existing gaps in administrative processes and then to develop new tools to support faculty engaged in international research. Problem areas typically include sending cash overseas, hiring foreign staff, and establishing foreign bank accounts.

#34 Establish a Global Vendor Network

For certain functions, managing different processes across multiple countries is simply too complex and time-consuming for existing staff. In those cases, the global support team leverages global service providers who offer cost-effective, expert support in areas such as legal counsel, accounting, human resources management, and emergency services.

IV. Approving International Partnerships

#35 Many (Perhaps Most) Partnerships Fail

Most universities have dozens of inactive international partnerships, each representing a significant investment of faculty and administrative time and a missed opportunity for greater international engagement. While faculty typically launch partnerships with the best of intentions, they naturally tend to focus on their own research or teaching interests and often fail to consider the potential benefi ts (and costs) to the broader university. But without such broader benefi ts (and broad-based support), the partnership is unlikely to be sustained.

#36 A Common Provost Concern

The proliferation of international agreements and their growing institutional profile has increasingly put provosts in the difficult position of having to decide whether to approve new partnerships with little information and little sense of the broader strategic implications of the decision. Many provosts are concerned both about responding to incoming requests from foreign institutions as well as proactively identifying institutions that might make good partners.

#37 Practice #4: International Partnership Approval Process

Successful institutions continue to encourage faculty to develop international partnerships, but they reserve official approval for those partnerships that can demonstrate evidence of long-term viability. Faculty are required to explain who will be engaged in the partnership, what types of fi nancial resources will be required and how they will be obtained, and what activities the partner institutions will undertake together. By mandating such due diligence before approval, the university can avoid wasting effort on agreements that are unlikely to lead to valuable interactions.

#38 There are three steps in creating an international partnership approval process:

#39 Centralize and Standardize MOU Authorization

Most partnerships originate from individual faculty relationships. Successful institutions encourage faculty to identify potential partners, but centralize authority for signing new partnership agreements. While the provost or president must ultimately decide whether to commit the institution to the relationship, faculty are asked to make the case that the proposed partnership has broad support and a high probability of positive impact. Faculty are best positioned to collect the relevant facts about a specific partner institution, while administrators are in the best position to ensure that certain minimum standards are met across all institutional partnerships.

#40 Require Faculty to Demonstrate Viability

Many partnerships founder for reasons that could have been foreseen. To avoid misunderstandings, mismatched expectations, and inactive partnerships, effective institutions require that faculty who propose new partnerships ask and answer key due diligence questions upfront, before the partnership is approved.

  • Is there sufficient interest on campus to sustain the partnership?
  • Is this the right partner for our institution?
  • Who will support partnership activities?
  • What will this partnership achieve?

#41 Review Performance Regularly

A rigorous approval process must be complemented by regular reviews.  Limiting the term of new agreements to less than five years forces both partners to periodically reevaluate the impact of the relationship. Reviews hold faculty members accountable for providing detailed updates on the status and prospects for the partnership. Such reviews identify partnerships that have stalled, enabling the university to decide whether to revitalize the agreement or to let it lapse.

V. Building Strategic International Partnerships

#42 The Barriers to Scale

Even successful international partnerships rarely involve more than a handful of faculty or students, often from a single discipline, often in a single activity. Faculty have little incentive (or time) to build partnerships that engage people from across the university in a wide range of activities. As a result, many partnerships remain small scale and miss opportunities to have a greater impact.

#43 The Benefits of Strategic Partnerships

Many partnerships stagnate soon after they begin, while others are able to maintain a sustained level of activity but never grow beyond their original collaborators. Strategic partnerships, by contrast, expand in both scope and scale, incorporating additional faculty and students from multiple units across campus as well as new kinds of activity. The benefits include broader collaboration, the ability to attract greater external funding, and greater overall impact.

#44 One Part of a Partnership Portfolio

Small-scale, short-term, faculty-to-faculty collaborations will always remain the most common type of partnership. A subset of these collaborations may grow to involve multiple faculty within a single program or department. These arrangements typically have a longer time frame and more formal agreements. An even smaller number of these will incorporate multiple units across campus and receive significant focus from senior administrators at both institutions. All partnerships ultimately rely on faculty to faculty interactions. The challenge is to build on select individual relationships to create partnerships with greater impact.

#45 Practice #5: Strategic Partnership Process

Successful institutions recognize that while faculty are best placed to launch new partnerships, building a large-scale university-wide partnership requires administrative intervention. Administrators at these institutions establish processes to engage faculty across the institution in deciding which partnerships should be designated as strategic and then support efforts to deepen and expand the relationship between the two institutions.

#46 There are four steps in the strategic partnership process:

#47 Prioritize Strategic Regions

Selecting strategic regions is often the most straightforward phase of the process.  Administrators look first at faculty and student interests but also take into account the broader community as well as geo-political considerations.

#48 Select the Best Regional Partner

Selecting a single institution within a strategic region can be a contentious decision given that the faculty most interested in the region typically already have relationships with a broad range of institutions. Faculty have to play a critical role in this decision since their continued commitment is essential to making a strategic partnership successful. Clear objective criteria help the decision-making process, including existing partnership activities, institutional compatibility, commitment from multiple deans, and even unique personal connections.

#49 Channel Faculty Activity to Partners

Once the institution has selected a strategic partner, the hard work of building a robust partnership begins. Administrative fiat is not an option. Instead, administrators can offer enhanced opportunities for travel or interaction with the strategic partner, including targeted travel subsidies, improved facilities on site, a preference for new hires who might benefit from the partnership, or encouragement from deans who recently visited the partner. The goal is not to make it harder to partner with institutions not designated as strategic but rather to make it easier to work with the strategic partner, particularly for faculty who do not already have long-standing international partnerships.

#50 Engage the Larger Campus

The ultimate benefi t of a strategic partnership is its broad impact across the entire campus. Strategic partnerships involve more faculty and students from more colleges and departments than program-level or faculty-to-faculty partnerships. Even those faculty and students who never visit the partner can benefit through a range of on-campus activities—from international course components and collaborative research to service opportunities, public events, and exposure to visiting faculty and students. The strategic partnership becomes a vehicle for internationalizing the campus.

The Role of Central Administrators

#51 High impact international activity almost always originates with the efforts of individual faculty members, but without appropriate administrative support, their ultimate success and long-term viability is typically limited. Senior administrators must balance the need to coordinate and manage activity across the university with the need to encourage and support faculty entrepreneurship. Rather than picking specific regions or activities, the most effective role for the provost and senior international officer is to build the administrative competencies that allow faculty to pursue their interests globally more easily and more safely.

The Provost's Role in Supporting Internationalization