“When HE internationalisation operates as an industry”

There is a facade of higher education internationalisation that paints an idealistic picture of providing students with a global experience, stressing collaboration in research and strengthening ties among universities worldwide.

Image: iStock

This spot-on article by Philip G. Altbach and Hans de Wit asserts that internationalization primarily refers to revenue generation through international student recruitment. This is something I’ve noticed since I was a young professional.

For years, the most compelling argument in favor of (more) international students in the US was their economic contribution nationwide, by state and/or district. NAFSA: Association of International Educators even has a page on its website entitled Benefits from International Students where you can generate reports by state and or congressional districts using the International Student Economic Value Tool. Money as primary justification.

If you need more proof of the overriding impact of the economics of international student recruitment, just look at the NAFSA annual conference, the sponsors, and the expo hall. As always, follow the money!

Note: I learned a long time ago that it’s best NOT to mention the economic benefits of international students in the sending countries. It gives the impression that their values lies mostly in the money they and their parents spend on tuition, fees, and living expenses.

Suddenly, with the rise of MAGA and the Trump administration, ideology, with its anti-immigrant and -foreign sentiment trappings, trumped (no pun intended) economic impact. The ideologues simply didn’t care about the billions of dollars that international students inject into the US economy every year.

Another issue is that the case for internationalization in the US has usually revolved around US-centric issues such as national security and economic competitiveness, in addition to the billions of dollars that international students inject into the US economic. All very utilitarian, uninspiring, and contradictory to the true nature of internationalization, simply defined as “the action or process of making something international.”

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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