Skyline University Nigeria

Globalisation and internationalisation in higher education: An emergent force

no all-encompassing definition of internationalisation of higher education to date. The most comprehensive and widely used definition both in research and practice describes internationalisation as “the process of integrating an international, intercultural, and global dimension into the purpose, functions (teaching, research and service) and the delivery of higher education.

Despite being a popular buzz word in the mainstream media, the nature and significance of globalization has proven hard to pin down with enough precision to see how it is influencing policies or practices in higher education. Globalization is an inherently complicated phenomenon, stubbornly resisting easy interpretation and application (Carnoy & Rhoten, 2002). Like globalization, internationalization is also a popular and frequently employed concept, used in varying contexts and for diverse purposes. But the operational meaning of this term remains equally vague and unclear (Knight, 1999; Stier 2003; Yang, 2002). Knight (1999) makes a helpful contribution toward distinguishing these two terms. She argues that: “globalization can be thought of as the catalyst while internationalization is the response, albeit a response in a proactive way”.

While we like the notion that internationalization is the active ingredient acting to express and reinforce globalization, we do have a minor objection with Knight regarding his distinction. As the Nielsen (2011) study indicates, internationalization can be, and probably should be, thought of as a leading variable, encouraging and facilitating globalization, not just a response variable describing how institutions respond to the presence of globalization in the spheres of economics, politics, culture and social interactions.

Globalization is transforming higher education

From the social process transformation perspective, globalization is having a transformative effect on the core functions of institutions of higher education. Under the influence of social interaction globalization, higher educational institutions are developing a consumerist mentality which transforms education into a product exchangeable in an open market (Marginson & Considine, 2000; Altbach, 2004, Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004). Slaughter and Leslie argue that “the academy has shifted from a liberal arts core to an entrepreneurial periphery,” in which “marketization” of the academics leads to the rise of “research and development with a commercial purpose” (1997, p. 208). This commercial purpose allows higher education institutions to compete for the monetary or human resources available globally to benefit their institutions (Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004).

Economic globalization is also turning knowledge into a commodity; a commodity whose value depends on the ease and security with which it is created, stored and transferred from producers to users, as well on its utility in the production of other goods and services. As knowledge is being commodified, however, social, political and cultural globalization turn knowledge production and distribution into symbolic status and power resources with significant consequences.

Seeking the power and prestige of symbolic knowledge, higher education institutions are encouraged to pursue internationalization through the recruitment of COMPETENT faculty and students and to secure recognition for knowledge production. Importantly, the Nielsen (2011) study shows, however, that the faculty and administrators pursuing this internationalization remain largely unconscious of how this activity is reinforcing the very globalization forces that are reshaping their workforce and productive processes.

Market competition divides as well as integrating institutions

The institution of higher education has always been international in scope with the exchange of ideas, scholars and students, but modern technology, the internet, communication technologies, the increasing flow of students and highly educated scientists from all over the world as well as scientific investments, patent activities and R & D make globalization more visible in the scientific field today (Heylin, 2006). The arrival of computer networks and systems and the challenges they bring cannot be solved without international collaboration, such as adapting software usage around the world, the internet not having a single owner, overcrowding of the internet and selection of knowledge. For example, a software developer in California needs to collaborate with researchers in Nigeria in order to have adaptable products.

Research universities play a prominent role

Armstrong (2007) introduced a new conceptual framework through which to examine the impact of globalization on US higher education institutions. His framing of the process of globalization in the international arena sees higher education institutions as hubs. Armstrong depicts a new model of institutions where students and faculty earn degrees from various international locales through global partnerships and satellite campuses thereby categorizing such institutions as non-traditional in the sense that they have no geographical borders. In this sense, institutions branch out and become global as opposed to just exchanging people and scholars with a fixed location. They expand their concept of being global as having international students, curriculum and activities, and having studied abroad Programmes to a different order of having Programmes overseas which rely a great deal on the partnerships between the people from different educational institutions around the world (Armstrong, 2007; Scott, 2000).

When exploring globalization especially in academics, we see that research universities play a particular role with global competition and a high number of international students. Armstrong & Becker (2004) discuss in a lecture series on the subject of Higher Education and the Global Marketplace, the present situation, the emerging environment, and future positions of US research universities. Altbach and Knight’s (2007) article discusses the motivations behind the global activities of research universities. Armstrong and Becker explain the high cost associated with supplying research, instruction and social environment for students in undergraduate, master, and doctoral Programmes serving mostly traditional students (2004).

Traditional students are identified as the ones that study on campus. Education in these universities is seen as an investment in the future of a private market economy. Therefore, as the global economy depends on skilled workers, the need for educating more people to participate in this economy gains importance (Armstrong & Becker, 2004).

In sum, this brief analysis of globalization reveals that wide-ranging interconnectedness trends are evident, and they directly have an influence on higher education institutions (Altbach, 2004). Many of these institutions, however, struggle as they have to respond to an ever-increasing set of global challenges such as competition or handling increasing international populations while remaining confined by institutional structural principles passed on from an earlier, more state-centred world.

Internationalization: The engine of globalization

As distinguished from globalization with its emphasis on worldwide conditions that influence perceptions of space, mobility of actions, the nature of communication and orientations to social interaction, internationalization focuses attention on the intentional actions of individuals, groups and social institutions as they actively seek to cross national borders in pursuit of social, economic, political or cultural benefits. Looking at higher education institutions, Knight (1999) offers a working definition of internationalization in this domain. She sees internationalization as a matter of integrating transnational elements into the “purpose, functions or delivery of post-secondary education” (p. 2). That is, colleges and universities are internationalizing their behaviour when they reshape their purposes to attract international students, to deploy their Programmes across national borders, concentrate on internationally advantageous educational Programme niches, restructure work roles or compensation systems to recruit, retain or manage employees, etc.

Internationalization in higher education is also evident in scholarly collaboration and the development of international standards in academic writing. Students move to other countries for training and researchers join forces internationally for collaborative research and a substantial number cross international borders (often several times) during the course of their academic careers. Moreover, by the start of the twenty-first century most prominent academic journals were routinely accepting submissions from any part of the world and trying to apply universal criteria in reviewing them (Martin, 2007).

The internationalization of higher education institutions focused on research and cross-national teaching is facilitated by multinational research and development agreements with international business and industry organizations. Such agreements call for the movement of personnel and facilities as well as ideas. We see international faculty and students moving freely around the world, contributing to globalization. Internationalization of higher education allows them to cross borders and institutions, challenging their national loyalties while strengthening their intellectual and institutional loyalties. Institutions like this rely on this shift in loyalties to bring top talent from around the world to work at a prestigious university. Loyalty to institution and field of endeavour are proving stronger than loyalty to national culture, orienting university scholars to pursue international legitimacy and prestige.

In Community colleges, it is not the loyalty to the field that provides the institution with the legitimacy for survival. It is meeting a market need. The contingency of labour is legitimate because it benefits the institution financially and enables it to survive in a highly competitive global economy. The institution strives for ever greater flexibility to respond to rapidly changing market conditions and, in doing so, the community colleges operating in a global culture needing to quickly respond to technological advances and the changing job opportunities brought about by the globalization of market structures.

In sum, globalization is allowing a new order in the world of higher education. Going from political to economical purposes, nationalism giving way to world citizenship, culture depending on the identified groups more than geographical locales, organizational legitimacy more and more depending on global name recognition and expansion, allegiance to the organization giving way to entrepreneurialism and most of all control of knowledge dissemination; these forces have altered the fabric of higher education. Adaptation is a survival tool. Higher education organizations that fit, participate and welcome global changes will survive the best.


1. Carnoy, M. & Rhoten, D. (2002). What does Globalization Mean for Educational Change? A Comparative Approach. Comparative Education Review, 46(1), 1–9
2. Simon Marginson, Mark Considine. (2000) The Enterprise University: Power, Governance and Reinvention in Australia. Cambridge University Press, 2000
3. Philip G Altbach – ‎(2007) Internationalisation of Higher Education: University of Windsor Press, 2007
4. Nielsen, H (2011), Managing Successful Universities: North Carolina State University Press, 2011
5. Knight, J. (2000), Internationalization remodelled: Definition, approaches and rationale, ‘studies in International Education ‘8, 5-31.

Dr. Nwaneri Benjamin Uchenna is a Senior Lecturer of International Relations in Skyline University Nigeria. He has a PhD. International Law and Diplomacy from Wisconsin University, USA.

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