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Internationalisation Strategies for non-Western Higher Educational Institutions

Internationalisation Strategies for non- Western Higher Educational Institutions
Internationalisation remains a key objective for higher education institutions (HEIs), but the COVID-19 health crisis has reshaped the landscape, presenting new challenges and opportunities. In this study, the authors critically evaluate internationalisation strategies in non-Western HEIs, using a reflexive approach to highlight the variety of education environments. They identified six key dimensions and nine facilitators that underpin the process of internationalisation, offering a comprehensive framework for HEI directors and academics. This model addresses strategies and performance indicators and provides valuable insights for advancing internationalisation efforts in the post-pandemic era.

Higher educational institutions (HEIs) place a strong emphasis on internationalisation to tackle global challenges and meet the changing needs of students and businesses (de Wit, 2019). To excel in this field, it is crucial to possess a diverse set of skills that encompass a multicultural and global outlook. This involves having a deep understanding of international relations and actively participating in transnational studies (de Wit, 2002).

Over the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant shift in HEIs towards online learning. This shift has brought about both challenges and opportunities on a global scale (Whittle et al., 2020). Although there have been studies on the impact of internationalisation and mobility (Mittelmeier and Ying Yang, 2022), there is still limited understanding of how HEIs can expand their international activities after COVID-19, particularly in non-Western contexts. In order to address this issue, we have taken the initiative to analyse the internationalisation strategies of HEIs and create a comprehensive model that delves into dimensions, strategies and indicators of internationalisation.

The six dimensions of internationalisation

Our framework integrates the concepts of ‘comprehensive internationalisation’, which involves the efforts of HEIs to integrate global content and perspectives into their teaching, research, and service missions (Hudzik, 2015) and ‘complete internationalisation’ (Chyrva, 2021), emphasising the integration of internationalisation into the mission, values and functions of HEIs. It also draws on Knight (2004, 2008) and Hawanini (2011) to define internationalisation dimensions and strategies, distinguishing between inward (internalising internationalisation within the university) and outward (expanding the university’s presence globally) (Figure 1).


Dimension 1: Students’ internationalisation

Student mobility is a crucial aspect of HEIs (Myhovych, 2019), involving recruitment, funding, facilitating experiences, and organising networking activities. Institutions can promote intercultural experiences through outward strategies like study trips and exchange programmes and inward strategies like recruiting international students. HEIs should focus on programme duration, financial support, and satisfaction levels (Table 1).

To attract international students, HEIs should focus on programme duration, financial support, and satisfaction levels. Importing students for one- or two-year academic programmes or facilitating short-term exchanges is crucial. Financial aid, such as scholarships, is vital, as seen in the Chinese government’s annual 10,000 full scholarships for countries along the ‘Belt and Road’. (Larbi et al., 2020).

Internationalisation enhances students’ perspectives by exposing them to global values and diverse thinking, promoting self-discovery. However, these efforts may incur costs and may not align with local contexts, leading to superficial experiences and cultural isolation. It is also worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted HEIs to adopt virtual student mobility to foster intercultural competencies without physical displacement (Woicolesco et al., 2022; UNESCO-IESALC, 2022).


Dimension 2: Internationalisation of Academic Programmes

Internationalisation of programmes involves curriculum internationalisation, international mobility, networking, bilingual programmes, collaborations with foreign HEIs, and online programmes aiming to equip graduates with global citizenship skills (Kirk et al., 2018) (Table 2).

Curriculum internationalisation involves integrating “international and intercultural course content with other HEIs, fostering students’ ability to work in diverse contexts and addressing cultural differences through effective communication” (Renfors, 2021, pp. 8-9). This process requires a systematic development approach with defined international learning objectives. Programme internationalisation includes mobility and networking opportunities, with HEIs offering activities such as national and multicultural engagement activities. International student mobility includes degree, credit, and certificate mobility (de Wit and Altbach, 2021).


Dimension 3: Faculty Internationalisation

HEIs’ internationalisation relies on faculty competencies in teaching, research, and academic management (Romani-Dias and Carneiro, 2020; Cortina-Pérez and Medina, 2019). Strategies encompass recruiting foreign professors, providing global training, and engaging in international research, while challenges such as relocation and adjusting to new living conditions persist.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated e-learning, enabling virtual faculty mobility, enhancing faculty engagement, and reducing travel expenses. It also promoted growth opportunities in international contexts and teaching at other universities.


Dimension 4: Internationalisation of Research

The internationalisation of research comprises five strategies: output, network, local outreach activities, international outreach activities, and funding (Table 4). Based on the outward strategy, research output is the primary indicator, encompassing high-impact publications, global interest, and collaborations with foreign co-authors. Conversely, the inward strategy focuses on local outreach activities, including hosting conferences and ‘importing’ international speakers, while research funding involves funding sources that enhance research capacity.

The massification of remote activities promotes internationalisation by establishing research networks, organising virtual conferences, and promoting virtual dissemination. These activities reduce travel costs and broaden access to international professional activities while also transforming academic conferences.


Dimension 5: International Ventures

Establishing overseas branch campuses is critical to increasing the worldwide presence of HEIs and attracting students from other countries. This plan includes exporting academic programmes and deploying faculty from various nations (Yu, 2022). However, building branch campuses is risky because maintaining quality standards remotely and managing regulatory restrictions may prevent academic programmes from being established abroad (Beecher and Streitwieser, 2019).


Dimension 6: Other Areas of Internationalisation

Other areas of internationalisation involve accreditation, certification, rankings, associations, and advisory boards, focusing on international education quality standards, importing experts, joining organisations, targeting multicultural segments, and digital transformation (Table 5). However, digital transformation may prompt a re-evaluation of internationalisation standards, as future criteria may incorporate virtual programme elements.

Facilitators for Internationalisation Strategies

International partnerships

International partnerships help expand joint programmes, research, and outreach activities, with academic reputation playing a pivotal role in initiating these partnerships. Funding internationalisation could be considered a supplementary revenue stream, generating income from international activities like student fees and government loans (Jooste and Hagenmeier, 2022).

Government Education International Policies

Government support programmes in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa prioritise internationalisation as a long-term developmental strategy, funding initiatives like publishing in international journals, faculty recruitment, and long-term mobility periods (Fan et al., 2022).


Technology fosters internationalisation by providing innovative global engagement opportunities, such as virtual exchange programmes, allowing students from diverse backgrounds to collaborate on academic projects. Collaborative international research projects utilise online tools, virtual speakers, MOOCs, and COIL to enhance classroom experiences, foster intercultural competencies, and provide free asynchronous courses.

Culture of Internationalisation, Diversity and Inclusion

Internationalisation in HEIs should be a core part of academic DNA, not an add-on (Bulut-Sahin et al., 2023). Fostering a culture that embraces cultural diversity is crucial for sustainable internationalisation strategies, especially for minority students and faculty members facing discrimination (Mwangi et al., 2019; Jian, 2020).

Staff Competence and Attitude

International office professionals play a crucial role in executing internationalisation strategies, but their role should go beyond administrative tasks (Bulut-Sahin et al., 2023). Human resources, including dedication, experience, and motivation, are essential for driving internationalisation efforts (González-Bonilla et al., 2021).

Student/Faculty Engagement, Intercultural Experience and Satisfaction

The sustainability of internationalisation strategies relies on enhancing student/faculty engagement and satisfaction, going beyond programmes and activities (Poort et al., 2019; Wilkins and Neri, 2019), as low levels of commitment can cause isolation and hinder performance.

English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI)

EMI is a growing global phenomenon that uses English to teach academic subjects in countries where the native language is not English (Dearden, 2014). However, EMI is not the ultimate goal and involves more than just offering degree programmes in English. Challenges include student dissatisfaction, limited English proficiency, university admission policies, external pressures, structural and cultural issues, increased workload, and intercultural problems (Gundsambuu, 2019). The mandatory implementation of EMI in certain regions may cause negative reactions from professors who view it as a threat to their professional identity (Jon et al., 2020).

Knowledge Transfer Mechanisms

Knowledge transfer in HEIs involves faculty, students, and staff in teaching, service, and research activities. Effective mechanisms, such as teamwork, faculty training, and collaborative research, are crucial for the sustainability of internationalisation efforts. HEIs must develop their own mechanisms for transferring knowledge from international faculty to national professors, students, academic authorities, and employees (Djikhy and Moustaghfir, 2019).

Concluding remarks

Our proposed internationalisation framework for non-western HEIs consists of six dimensions – students, programmes, faculty, research, international companies, and other sources, and nine facilitators  – international partners, funding, government international policies, technology, culture, staff competence, student/faculty engagement, EMI, and knowledge transfer mechanisms. This model, designed to assist HEI directors and academics, emphasises the importance of international partnerships, financing strategies, and technology in facilitating internationalisation processes (Kobzhev et al., 2020).

Significant changes are expected in internationalisation in the future, especially in non-Western HEIs, alongside advancements in various technological modes of internationalisation. HEI directors and academics should note that models based on virtual mobility are key opportunities to foster a more inclusive and less elitist internationalisation process.

Internationalisation Strategies for non- Western Higher Educational Institutions


Beatrice Avolio is Dean of Faculty, Centrum PUCP, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

Jorge Benzaquen is Professor, Centrum PUCP, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

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