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Joint Modules and Internationalisation in Higher Education

Reflections on the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning»


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer, Paula Guimaraes and Balázs Németh

This volume places the development of the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning» (COMPALL) in the context of international development in higher education and adult education. Based on this framework, the authors discuss the development of the joint module in terms of its institutional and didactical structure as well as participants’ motivation and diversity. The book is divided into three parts: (1) Internationalisation in Higher Education, (2) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Case of Adult Education, and (3) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Example of COMPALL.

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Internationalisation of higher education in a global world (István Vilmos Kovács / István Tarrósy)

István Vilmos Kovács & István Tarrósy

The Internationalisation of Higher Education in a Global World

Abstract: This contribution looks at what drives the internationalisation of higher education in a global context. To that end, we begin by describing the place and role of universities in our global world. Internationalisation is an obvious knowledge and energy source to find adequate responses to new expectations. The contribution offers an analysis of the circumstances and working features that can contribute to preparing and implementing an internationalisation strategy, also addressing the usual risks.

The context of globalisation

International education specialist Jane Knight is right when she explains that “[t]he world of higher education is changing and the world in which higher education plays a significant role is changing” (2008, p. 2.). In any region of our globalising world, higher education institutions are dominant actors regarding development. Every university or college belongs to a region that has its own characteristic system of institutions, processes, and culture, which reflect its particular history and the actual functional division of labour. Universities are born within such a unique environment, and thus they cannot be taken into consideration alone, as sole players, taken out of their given milieu. There is an obvious interconnectedness and interdependence of regions and their institutions (see Tóth & Tarrósy, 2002, pp. 66–71).

Universities have always had a – minimum – role to communicate with the regional government, later with labour market agencies and politicians. Today [they] also work as entrepreneurial organisations, attracting fee-­paying students and participating in lifelong learning movements for adults. (Dobay, 2007, p. 11)

In addition, as of today, the environment is part of a truly global, transnational picture. ‘Globalisation is probably the most pervasive and powerful feature of [this] changing environment. (Knight, 2008, p. 3) It is essential, therefore, to first look at and understand the realities of this global context so that the complexities of the internationalisation of universities can be grasped.

The creation, sharing, and application of knowledge has become a major factor in the economic development of most countries. Since knowledge has gained a primary role in driving industry and shaping society, universities are to meet←39 | 40→ more and more related challenges. A 2002 World Bank report entitled Constructing Knowledge Societies found that aside from the increasing role of knowledge, technological change, including the revolution in ICT, is the major global driver of change in higher education (World Bank, 2002).

Higher education institutions (HEIs) have also experienced an intense demographic transition in three dimensions. The accelerated enrolment growth, the extension of the learning age to a lifelong learning perspective, and the decline of the age groups completing secondary education are common features in a number of industrial countries (OECD, 2008).

Higher education enrolment in the OECD countries exceeds 50 per cent. Between 2002 and 2015, the number of EU tertiary graduates almost doubled from 23.6 million to 38.7 million (Eurostat, 2016). Their learning needs are much more diverse than those of their predecessors, who prepared for roles in a narrow scientific and intellectual elite. The decline of public finances and the mobilisation of alternative resources are also key issues of institutional strategies in most countries.

Globalisation is different from other processes such as internationalisation or modernisation. As George and Wilding (2002, p. 2) point out, it is widely accepted that globalisation involves at least the following main strands:

increasing and deepening interconnectedness of societies in different parts of the world;

almost unimpeded flows of financial capital, news and cultural images across the world;

rising activity and power of multinational companies (MNCs);

rising economic growth accompanied by rising inequalities in many countries;

a global consumer culture in the making;

more travel and migration by more people from more countries to more countries;

faster methods of transport and electronic communication so that time and space are increasingly being compressed;

greater awareness by the public of what is happening in the world and of the possible implications for their own country;

rapid growth of governmental and non-­governmental supranational organisations that supplement, supplant, and support the activities of the nation state.

In an interconnected transnational system. ‘Globalisation is transforming rather than superseding the state (Lawson, 2012, p. 142) by driving political, economic, and social processes, and affecting information and communication technologies together with the creation and transmission of knowledge. The ‘network←40 | 41→ state (Castells, 1997) differs from the nation state of the Westphalian order in that it needs to position itself in a setting with a multitude of other types of power-­holding entities (or those aspiring to gain power). But although the international policy-­making arena has become crowded, the tasks of the state ‘have not changed. [States, therefore, governments] still have to manage, with respect to their domestic constituencies, the dual relationship between domination and legitimation, and between development and redistribution (Stalder, 2006 p. 122).

As ‘globalisation makes us more vulnerable because we are more interdependent with one another (Li, Jiagang, Xiaoyuan, & Hairong, 2012, p. 104), collaboration is encoded in the world. Simply because in certain issues and instances, there is no other way but to cooperate so that states do not ‘get hurt, which is their ultimate national goal at the same time. Having said that, national survival, and consequently national interest, will determine state behaviour, strategy, and action – both for cooperation and competition.

As the OECD sums up in its ‘Higher Education to 2030 scenario on globalisation, the responses are articulated in national and local contexts, and even the common features are reflected in several ways. The nation state remains the site of sectoral policy formation with its impact on the global competitiveness of national higher education institutions. At the same time, globalisation, with its open information environment, with the role of global education and research networks, made global connections and co-­operation more strategic than ever. The OECD concludes that mapping the global landscape in a comprehensive manner could properly assist national policy makers, institutions, and higher education professionals (OECD, 2009, p. 32).

Competition on the higher education market, due to the increasing number of public and private higher education institutions as well as the Bologna process as a driving power of the European Higher Education Area, [and in many countries of the economically advanced North, as a result of demographic pressures] are forcing institutional changes. (Pausits, 2007, p. 85)

In parallel with the above-­mentioned convergence of national systems, there remains considerable room for national and institutional policies and measures. Globalisation and internationalisation in higher education have different directions, while at the same time they are interrelated. Internationalisation is a response to the globalisation of our societies, and an intake of measures targeting a more controlled adaptation process. It is a conscious response to global challenges in order to exploit its opportunities. OECD argues that for a single government, the medium of internationalisation might be the proper field for managing the←41 | 42→ impact of globalisation. Multi-­lateral collaborations, such as the Bologna Process and the regional higher education associations, can help national governments comply with this strategic challenge (OECD, 2009, p. 23). Within the global realm, we are witnessing the rise of new regional structures, together with both intra- and inter-­regional activities.

Once a regional agenda and architecture is constructed (e.g. the EU), regions often reach out to other regions to facilitate the development process via the building of linkages. […] All signs point to a continued relevance of regional engagement and cooperation. (Robertson, 2017, p. 11)

Institutional challenges

Todays universities face several challenges. The traditional standards of their operation are no longer a guarantee for excellence. Research is overrated compared to teaching, and other activities that promote internal and external relations, structures, and processes leading to social impact. Research itself is challenged by competing expectations. Mode-­one research is confronted with mode two (Gibbons et al., 1995). The first mode defines the ‘issue as the result of the researchers curiosity, for the most part keeps disciplinary identity intact, leads to peer-­reviewed scientific publications, and is assessed by citations by other mode-­one researchers. The second mode tries to respond to social and economic problems and needs, values interdisciplinarity, and the elaborated responses and proposed solutions are assessed by their applicability in practice. The interpretation of what research means is further enriched by the fact that the links between education and research are multifaceted, and the potential of new combinations is often underestimated. Traditionally, research feeds the content of teaching, provides theoretical foundations and evidence supporting the delivered content. However, the supremacy of research is not anymore unanimously supported. Learning can be organised as research; learning and teaching can be the object of scientific inquiry and vice versa.

Higher education traditionally follows simple protocols for teaching and learning: lectures, seminars, tests, exams, matching subjects, teachers, classes, and auditoriums. Subjects (courses) are basically derived from what the team of lecturers are capable of and get used to teach. Making study programmes more relevant to real-­life situations is a growing demand, as is the call for curricula to meet the ever-­changing present and future needs of the labour market. These issues can be part of pedagogical discussions. The principles of the universitas spirit can also be interpreted as the hesitation to serve the expectations of the labour market←42 | 43→ or any other utilitarian purposes. Supporting scientific discovery, the holistic development of the personality, or sustaining cultural continuity seem a more attractive intellectual challenge for many traditional universities than meeting the needs of students.

The teacher and teaching-­centred education are invited to become student and learning-­centred. This profoundly reshapes the role of higher education teachers (Weimer, 2002). The one-­way knowledge transfer is replaced or diversified by mutual learning opportunities, triggered by the different expectations of heterogeneous groups of students. Higher education has recognised the need of professionalising teaching and learning in higher education.

Aligned with the above changes, the third mission of higher education institutions is to open up to the external environment in order to increase the social impact of both research and education. Due to the often-­decreasing state financing, new channels of funding also imply changes in basic functions. ‘Entrepreneurial-­type universities are born with a new role, ‘with a new paradigm: “serving the region”, instead of (or simply alongside) “serving science”(Dobay, 2007, p. 15).


International partnership in research and in the design and delivery of training programmes has a vitalising role. Internationalisation is an obvious knowledge and energy source to find adequate responses to the above-­described expectations. International cooperation of both students and teachers multiplies the richness of perspectives, the available knowledge and resources. Internationalisation is a broader concept. It has been an overwhelming trend in higher education worldwide, and ‘a vehicle for the development of top-­notch talent in innovation, according to the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) in the city of Chengdu. It is certainly not a new term, not even a new phenomenon. Its ‘popularity in the education sector has soared since the early eighties. Prior to this time, international education and international cooperation were the favoured terms and still are in some countries (Knight, 2008, p. 4).

The new terms we use today include borderless education, cross-­border education, virtual education, internationalisation ‘abroad and internationalisation ‘at home, as well as networks, twinning and franchise programmes, corporate universities, education providers, or branch campuses. (Knight, 2008, p. 5). According to Halász,←43 | 44→

the changes affect essentially all aspects and functions of higher education from the transformation of the institutional management, the structure and content of qualifications through the funding of education to research and sectoral governance (Halász, 2010, p. 3).

As Knight (2003a, p. 2) summarises, internationalisation is a process in which an international, intercultural, or global dimension is integrated into the goals, functions, and the implementation of higher education activities.

According to the OECD study Internationalisation and Trade in Higher Education, there are two approaches of internationalisation. Enriching the national education and research activities of higher education institutions with international, intercultural dimensions is only one direction of internationalisation activities, referred to as ‘internationalisation at home in the related literature (Knight, 2004). The other direction is transnational education, which involves border-­crossing by students, trainers, programmes, and institutions (OECD, 2004). The mobility of students, instructors, and programmes, outsourced trainings and faculties set up in other countries belong to this category (Knight, 2003b).

If strategic thinking about internationalisation is an accepted part of everyday work, then internationalisation encompasses the whole institution and becomes an integral and organic part of all activities. The question of coordination is how to mobilise or help those who can promote the international dimension of education, research, and the development of the related services.

Global competition requires that institutions explore and utilise the knowledge they gained through international relations, which can contribute to the quality and efficiency of its functions in a complex way.

Content of the internationalisation strategy

While internationalisation has become an indicator of high-­quality higher education, dialogue on the quality and content of internationalisation is beneficial as well. This dialogue can be inspired effectively by launching the design of an internalisation strategy. According to Hénard and colleagues, the institutions international strategy should align with national policies, involve stakeholders in the entire process, and set an evaluation framework to assess the impacts of the strategy (Hénard, Diamond, & Roseveare, 2012, pp. 10–14).

Higher education institutions are actors in the global economy, and Barakonyi (2004) highlights the fact that higher education institutions, like business organisations, require professional management, development programmes, and new organisational models based on a ‘new public management paradigm.←44 | 45→

Internationalisation may have an impact on the following areas:

the curriculum of the training programmes;

the development of HR functions according to the aspects of internationalisation, from recruitment to internal training, performance evaluation, organisational development, and contacts with former staff;

the strengthening of the language skills of the institutions entire staff;

exploring the positive energies of the international exchange of good practices of pedagogical innovation and intercultural media;

the development of student services;

improve the feedback system of stakeholders so that international students and trainers can study and work in an appropriate development environment;

professional and proactive management of international tenders and projects;

exploring unexplored resources capable of facilitating internationalisation;

strengthening student participation;

strengthening reflection on their own internationalisation process (diploma theses, PhD researches, action researches, exchange of working practices, joint projects with successful partner institutions);

internationalisation-­related internal knowledge-­sharing, the institutionalisation of the (international) professional development of the staff;

exploring international learning opportunities for internationalisation, understanding good examples and models;

exploring the possibilities of experimentation and adaptation;

strategic solutions ensuring successful implementation, such as the development of a system of responsibilities, resources, follow-­up and feedback, must be the part of decisions.

Partnership is an effective form of creating long-­term engagement in strategy-­making. Table 1 helps identify the areas where preparatory work can involve a wide range of stakeholders. The following 10 topics show that internationalisation can be approached from so many aspects (Table 1).←45 | 46→

Table 1: Strategy in the making: Topics for partnership


Source: Kovács & Tarrósy, 2015, pp. 2–8

Efforts to renew the teaching and learning process

The reason for reshaping higher education services also concerns the teaching and learning function of higher education institutions in several ways:

There is an increased emphasis on the future skill needs of students exceeding the traditional scope of the learned disciplinary area in order to respond to the changing features of the labour market as well as to enable them to play prospective social roles.

The learning outcomes-­based approach helps reshape the programme and the course designs aligned with the new expectations. To harmonise learn←46 | 47→ing outcomes with the design of tailored learning and assessment remains a demanding professional challenge.

The professionalisation of teaching needs easier access to the findings of learning research and more tools to support the professional development and appraisal of teachers.

More cooperation is needed, at least among those higher education teachers involved in a relevant study programme. Cooperation is inevitable in the cases of programmes jointly delivered by different faculties (as often happens to ITE) or by different universities even if they are not from the same countries.

The potential of the active involvement and role of students in the entire processes across all university functions can hardly be overestimated. Students, with their diverse backgrounds, are not only learners but partners for research and providers of knowledge, especially due to the intense involvement of practitioners who start higher education in a later phase of their life or return to upscale their knowledge. The mutual benefit of validating prior learning and experience and building on it is an increasing challenge.

One specific form of internationalised study programmes is when they are jointly designed and delivered and possibly even result in multiple degrees. Research has found that these study programmes have a positive impact on students motivation to learning, improve their career options and employability, generate revenue, and help create access to further funding sources. Some higher education institutions and systems use these programmes for sharing knowledge on how to improve the quality and efficiency of third programmes (Hénard et al., 2012, pp. 19–22). Another benefit, according to Asgary and Robbert, is that ‘international dual degree models are significantly superior in terms of academic, intellectual and experiential learning; therefore, graduates of these programmes will be better prepared to lead international ventures and serve as global citizens (Asgary & Robbert, 2010, p. 317).

On the other hand, dual degree programmes need proper leadership and commitment from staff. The involved higher education institutions have to be culturally open, inventive, and future-­oriented. Students also need to have some specific characteristics. They must be prepared to manage a higher level of uncertainty and engage in performance. International study programmes may face difficult learning and implementation periods and challenges during their evolving provision. Their potential for outstanding impacts is their obvious driving force (Asgary & Robbert, 2010)←47 | 48→

Is internationalisation the good, the bad, or the ugly, then?

Although all the global, transnational challenges and opportunities mentioned earlier cannot be bypassed, Peter Scott draws our attention to the different aspects (and understandings) of internationalisation. The ‘good aspect has always accompanied international higher education in the form of exchanges, scientific collaboration, or contributions to the social and economic performance of a given region. The ‘bad aspects are, as Scott (2011, n.p.) argues, ‘the mainstream drivers […] First is the pressure to recruit international students, almost entirely because they can be charged higher fees. […] Second is the drive for geopolitical and commercial advantage. […] Third is global positioning.

All this may indicate that we can extend our knowledge and perception about the notion of geopolitics, and include also the geopolitics of higher education into our narratives. The ‘ugly aspect, finally, is linked with strategies that subvert core responsibilities, as institutions struggle to recruit students – in many parts of Central and Eastern Europe, for instance, as a result of demographic challenges resulting from ageing and shrinking populations – from abroad, ‘less discerning international students to fill their places (Scott, 2011). The ‘foreign adventures that institutions are involved in may also carry financial and reputational risks. Therefore, according to Scott,

there is an urgent need to reset the compass of internationalisation, to steer towards the good and away from the ugly. Not only is this morally right, it is also probably in the best long-­term interests of the sector. At the very least, it provides firm ground on which to stand against the rising wind of anti-­immigrant, anti-­foreigner, anti-‘other populism. (Scott, 2011, n. p.)

This is especially true in our current times, when growing xenophobia also hits higher education as a result of the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.

When looking further at the ‘good and the ‘bad sides of internationalisation, a 2010 IAU study can also reveal certain important ideas. As Marmolejo (2010, n. p.) points out:

When asked about the most important benefits of internationalisation, the top three reasons at the global level listed in order of relevance were [for the universities asked]: increasing international awareness of students; strengthening research and knowledge production; and fostering international cooperation and solidarity.

Obviously, as global tendencies have been pulling all the corners of the world more closely together, higher education and research become more closely linked, too. However, the IAU survey also highlights regional disparities, which seem to have stabilised rather than disappeared. This is definitely not the ‘good side of the story.←48 | 49→ When institutions prioritise their partnerships, they may not look beyond their own regions and the traditional contexts of connections. For instance,

in the Asia-­Pacific region the first geographic priority for the internationalisation policy in the majority of their institutions is Asia-­Pacific, followed by Europe. For European institutions the first priority is placed on Europe itself and the second one on Asia-­Pacific. For North America the first priority is Asia-­Pacific, followed by Europe. (Marmolejo, 2010, n. p.)

Marmolejo even takes this further by pointing out that

Sadly, the only region considering Africa as the principal priority is precisely Africa, but aside from that, none of the regions even consider Africa as a second or third priority. Even worse, Latin America is not even considered a priority by those Latin American institutions, which participated in the study, and none of the other regions of the world considers Latin America among their top three choices. If a region of the world is completely off the radar of international educators from all over the world, it provides at least a good ‘wake-­up call.

Fostering regional dialogues, therefore, has become a key prerequisite for successful and even more, meaningful internationalisation.

There are several risks, adding to the challenges explained earlier, that HEIs have to reckon with when ambitiously committing themselves to amplify the process internationalisation:

lack of consensus;

resource dependence;

too much complexity;

ignoring or misjudging cultural differences;

shortage of capacities.

Concluding thoughts

As Marijk van der Wende (2017, p. 6) points out:

Critical voices rail against internationalisation as an elite cosmopolitan project; against the use of English as a second or foreign language for teaching and learning; against global rankings and the resulting reputation race with its annual tables of losers and winners; against the recruitment of international students for institutional income; and other forms of ‘academic capitalism.

Despite these reservations, there is obvious support behind the internationalisation of higher education as one of the most powerful drivers of innovation and change. Therefore, internationalisation is ever so significant in the development of teaching and learning in higher education institutions and in most aspects of←49 | 50→ university policy. Via newly developed teaching programmes and methodologies, such as the COMPALL joint-­module methodology programme, the different cultural and disciplinary traditions and advancements can be overarched and re-­connected. Such re-­connection then may contribute to a refined definition and interpretation of what internationalisation can and should mean for higher education locally, regionally, and transnationally.


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