university internationalization study abroad program quality
How does Best Places to Study Abroad determine how “international” a university is? Simply accepting international students or sending its own students abroad is not enough. Universities may have other reasons for engaging in the practice of sending and receiving students – such as government pressure or padding their income – but the real test comes in how they integrated inbound and outbound study abroad into their missions and curricula.

Study Abroad students do not want to end up at a university that doesn’t truly welcome them and provide for their needs. That’s the path to a shallow experience at best, and a miserable one in many cases. They need a university where the faculty and staff support internationalization intrinsically. But how do you measure professors and administrators’ beliefs? You weigh their actions.

Indicators of Internationalization

This Study Abroad Program Quality measures both the objective evidence of university internationalization – numbers of people and programs – and the subjective. The second category consists of counting the types of opportunities that universities provide for their international students to get involved in the university and local community. These opportunities, as explained in the Seven Benefits of Study Abroad, are what make a study abroad experience truly valuable and fulfilling.

While the partial list of indicators below do not guarantee that every professor and administrator you meet will be an enthusiastic supporter of international education, the more criteria that a university meets, the more likely it is that the true spirit of internationalization is driving its decision making. And of course, each criteria directly contributes to a better experience for international students.

University Internationalization: People

People are the most easily recognizable and quantifiable indicator of university internationalization. A greater percentage and diversity of international students and faculty indicates that the university leadership values and has made a deliberate effort to seek out these members of its community. To identify universities that recruit the vast majority of their international students from one or two countries, the Best Places to Study Abroad rankings measure diversity as the percentage of international students not represented by the two most common nationalities.

Measured criteria include:

  • Percentage and diversity of degree-seeking international students
  • Percentage and diversity of short-term study abroad students
  • Percentage of foreign-educated faculty

Outbound Internationalization

Sending degree-seeking students abroad is a key indicator of university internationalization. It demonstrates a deeper level of commitment to and understanding of international education and makes it more likely that the university will provide better support for incoming students. A university that sends its students abroad is also more likely to integrate international and local students on campus as a way to prepare its own students for their international experience.

Specific measurements of outbound efforts as they related to university internationalization include:

  • Percentage of degree-seeking students who study abroad for a semester or more
  • Number and diversity of exchange partnerships
  • Integration of degree-seeking and international students in housing and classes

International Student Services

Integration of international students into the university environment is essential to an immersive, beneficial study abroad experience, but universities must also meet the specific needs of international students. International students are less able to meet their needs on the local economy – for example, housing and health care – and may struggle even with the differences in the university system itself. International universities understand that short-term study abroad students may struggle to meet their needs on their own and prepare orientation, counseling, and services specifically to help them.

Examples of measured international student services include:

  • Guaranteed housing placement for international students
  • On-campus English-speaking medical and mental health services
  • Academic orientation and assignment of local academic advisor

Summary: University Internationalization

University internationalization, as one of the Three Study Abroad Program Qualities, measures the specific measures that universities have taken to integrate international students and provide the support structures that they need to thrive. It is an attempt to see beyond empty mission statements and the half-hearted internationalization that unfortunately occurs at some schools to identify the study abroad destinations that truly welcome and value their international population, not just as numbers on a balance sheet.

The three categories here do not cover every possible aspect of university internationalization, but they are readily identifiable indicators. A university that recruits international faculty and students, that pushes its own students to study abroad, and that provides the necessary level of services for its incoming international students to succeed is one that has internalized internationalization as a core value of the university.

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