At the top, too short a season

Internationalisation stymied by the Continent's fixed-term leadership. Jack Grove reports

September 20, 2012

Massive turnover among Europe's university leadership is hindering efforts to internationalise higher education, a conference has heard.

Jeroen Huisman, director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management at the University of Bath, told the European Association for International Education's annual conference in Dublin on 14 September that many successful initiatives to recruit more foreign students and staff had lost momentum owing to short-term appointments among the Continent's academic leadership.

Unlike in the UK, mainland Europe's university leaders are often elected to serve fixed terms, sometimes only two or three years' duration, putting "a limit on what can be achieved", Professor Huisman said.

He added: "Setting a strategy is one thing but putting it into practice is entirely different. If these leaders leave the scene or are not elected, their...experience goes down the drain and you have to start again from scratch."

Kees Kouwenaar, director of the Centre for International Cooperation at VU University Amsterdam, said his institution was looking to appoint an executive vice-rector for internationalisation to ensure continuity for its overseas partnerships. The vice-rector would report directly to the rector and offer updates on efforts to reach foreign students and institutions, he added.

"The rector has too many other crises to deal with," Dr Kouwenaar said. "You need a former dean, a member of the executive committee or a high-standing professor to work on [internationalisation] for two or three days a week.

"The vice-rector should be the linchpin between the rector and departments."

He added that it was vital for mid-level universities to forge links with higher education institutions in developing countries because the latter might only be interested in world-famous universities when they climbed the rankings themselves.

"When they are in the top 200 or 300, they are not going to be interested in VU and maybe not even in Amsterdam," he said. "You need to get them when they are about 700 [in the world rankings]."

Edilio Mazzoleni, international director of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, a private institution in Milan, said the university had embraced internationalisation because its European Union funding had fallen significantly post 2001 as funds were diverted from training to research.

Needing to recruit non-EU students for revenue purposes, the university had "infused internationalisation throughout its mission" by setting up exchange programmes across the world, he added. "We are probably turning our university into something similar to an American institution," he told the conference.

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