The world is at the top of the agenda across the UK

Senior managers drive international strategies to equip institutions for global future, writes Phil Baty

October 22, 2009

"If you just fiddle around the edges, you will still be fiddling around the edges in ten years' time."

When it comes to internationalisation, David Pilsbury, the pro vice-chancellor for international development at Coventry University, is clear that universities must be bold.

Like a number of UK institutions, Coventry has declared its intention to become a "global" university and wants internationalisation to "pervade everything we do".

The university is putting its money where its mouth is, leading a trend for creating senior-management positions to ensure that internationalisation is a core part of its strategy.

Dr Pilsbury joined Coventry from the Worldwide Universities Network last year, taking up a role created specifically to drive the agenda from the senior level. In addition, the university has just filled another senior post in this area, hiring Robert Atkinson as director of international development.

A glance at recent job vacancies advertised in Times Higher Education confirms that Coventry is not alone.

This month, Shaun Curtis, former head of Universities UK's International Unit, took up the newly created role of director of international at the University of Exeter.

He follows Neil Armstrong, who has filled the post of deputy vice-chancellor (international) at the institution.

Both will lead Exeter's drive to become one of the top 100 universities in the world by 2015.

The University of Liverpool is currently searching for a pro vice-chancellor of internationalisation, another new role, as it pursues ambitious plans for a stronger global profile.

At the more junior level, the universities of Bedfordshire and Lincoln are looking for directors of international offices, while the University of Surrey is advertising for a head of international partnerships on a salary of £53,000 a year.

A 2007 report from the Council for Industry and Higher Education, Global Horizons for UK Universities, says that internationalisation is emerging as a fundamental part of the strategic plans approved by university governing bodies.

It notes that "a growing number of top-tier posts with 'internationalisation' in the title are emerging".

An all-round view

In his report last year to former Universities Secretary John Denham, Internationalisation of HE: A Ten-Year View, Sir Drummond Bone, former vice-chancellor of Liverpool, notes a dramatic increase in student mobility.

Between 1999 and 2007, there was a 53 per cent increase (to 2.8 million) in the number of students enrolled in higher education institutions outside their home country, he writes.

But he adds: "Institutions must move from equating international strategy with student recruitment alone to a much wider internationalisation agenda."

Dr Curtis said: "A number of UK universities are thinking about the management of internationalisation across campus, if only because an ever greater number of staff are involved in international activities, such as communication, alumni and legal teams, campus services and the like, in addition to the traditional international office. In many ways, internationalisation has outgrown the international office."

Dr Pilsbury said that Coventry's focus was as much on making sure that domestic students receive a truly international experience as attracting and integrating overseas students on campus.

"Every home student I've ever spoken to who studied abroad has found it to be transformative," he said. "It changes lives, and this is what universities are about. It gives them a global mindset, a sense of intellectual achievement very early on in their careers."

Last year, 450 of Coventry's home students opted to study overseas, mostly at partner institutions in China, India and Nigeria. This year, the university expects more than 500 to follow suit. It wants all its domestic students to gain some sort of international experience in its 2010-15 planning period.

A multinational world

Sir Howard Newby, vice-chancellor of Liverpool and former chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, is currently repositioning the university as a global force. He also has an eye on the domestic experience.

"Today's graduates will emerge into a multinational, multicultural, multi-ethnic world," he said. "We have to give them a student experience that makes them comfortable in that. We have to embed the international experience in the curriculum, not simply as a bolt-on extra."

In his report to Mr Denham, Sir Drummond says that as well as increased student mobility, there has been "very considerable" growth in international research collaboration in the past decade.

He also notes that "world-class research is inherently international, and the career experience of not only research students and postdoctoral researchers but also undergraduates is affected beneficially by international-research contacts".

"The movement of staff is every bit as important a factor in internationalisation as the movement of students," he says.

Sir Drummond adds that there needs to be a move towards a better "balance in overseas activity between recruitment, partnerships, research and capacity building". This, he says, must be supported properly.

"Real internationalisation needs the wholehearted support and involvement of management at the highest level, and resources need to be spent on the growing number of top-tier posts with 'internationalisation' in the title," he writes.

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