Skip to Content

Recruiting International Students: Higher Education Trends

By Bradley Beecher May 23, 2018

An Introduction to Internationalization in Higher Education

An Introduction to Internationalization in Higher Education

Through connections via technology, travel, and new industries, the world is becoming a smaller place. To prepare students for evolving careers, higher education institutions need to be aware of trends and opportunities for experiences in globalization and internationalization. Today, colleges and universities have an opportunity to think holistically about helping students build skills and networks for success.

This is the first of a series of blogs on this topic to prepare higher education leaders to adapt – and capitalize on – trends in internationalization in education. We’ll be covering globalization, recruiting international students, trends in the knowledge economy, and some examples of institutions that are making the most of these trends and finding success.

Globalization, the Knowledge Economy, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Globalization is a phenomenon that is viewed positively in some circles as it has enabled increased wealth across the world, the exchange of ideas, and a sense that world can be a smaller place as people can travel faster and further than at anytime in human history and instantaneously communicate with each other. Globalization brought about good and bad changes.

Today, a global knowledge economy has emerged as an outcome of globalization, which has also spurred the rise of the fourth industrial revolution. The World Economic Forum foresees technologies such as, “artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing“ powering these changes. (See thoughts from CEO Rob Acker about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.)

Technology amplifies the effects of globalization, and throughout history there are examples of how technological advances better connected the world. During the Age of Exploration from the 15th to 17th centuries, technologies helped drive globalization through better forms of navigational instruments and maps to sail across the seas and the construction of ships that could sustain multi-month journeys. What makes this latest form of globalization similar to the past is that technology powers the changes for societies, economies, cultures, and individuals. The difference is that technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that it acts as an accelerant for both the good and bad aspects of globalization.

Digital technologies are powering this fourth industrial revolution and the creativity of individuals in the global knowledge economy are imagining the use of these technologies for almost every aspect of the economy. Significant benefits are derived from the use of these digital technologies, but these technologies can also be used to harm society. Rob Acker, CEO of, states: “We are using new digital technologies in ways they were never intended to be used. The same technology that makes the world more connected is being weaponized, from playground bullying to sowing seeds of hatred and intolerance more widely.”

Globalization and the fourth industrial revolution technologies currently impact higher education and will do so into the foreseeable future. Higher education institutions can respond to the pressures wrought by globalization through internationalization.

Higher education institutions operate within global systems and must address the opportunities and challenges offered by globalization.

Within the US higher education system, especially during the recent Great Recession, state funding for higher education shrunk. According to Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, in the recession, the state of California reduced its appropriation to UC by 40% and it had to increase tuition in the double digits (Source: Event at, March 28, 2018). Recently, funding has grown in some states, however, colleges and universities are still seeking revenue to offset reductions in public funding.

There are few levers university administrators can use to generate revenue. Some levers are politically untenable such as raising tuition, eliminating academic programs, and cutting faculty and staff positions. Unfortunately, given the financial situation of some universities, they have had to make these difficult decisions. Other levers are less controversial such as applying for grants, but grant processes are highly competitive and may be one-off funding that is not necessarily sustainable longer-term. Advancement and alumni relations can raise large sums of money through capital campaigns, but these are often multi-year efforts.

A decade since the Great Recession, colleges and universities continue facing various challenges, both domestically and from abroad that its senior leaders, administrators, faculty, staff, and students must address. There are many voices today that question the value of higher education, its return on investment for students and society, and whether certain disciplines are relevant. Policymakers and the public want to ensure that public funding is used in a responsible manner, that students are graduating with work-ready degrees, and that students are ready to compete in the global knowledge economy.

One lever that university administrators can use to offset lost funding is to ramp up their international activities to raise new revenues. Internationalization is less politically controversial than raising tuition or cutting academic programs, and offers several benefits described in the next section.

Learn how universities can benefit from recruiting international students.

Understanding Internationalization for Higher Education

Coming out of the global Great Recession, many universities began ramping up their internationalization activities to seek out new revenue sources by recruiting new cohorts of international students, creating partnerships with universities abroad, and to raise the stature of their brands to global audiences. Internationalization of higher education is a response to and an outgrowth of globalization.

Within the realm of internationalization, there are many options senior leaders can use to benefit their students and university. Jane Knight, a leading scholar of internationalization, created a typology of international activities that details differing forms of internationalization that higher education institutions can use. Knight’s (2006) typology includes:

  • Internationalization at home
  • Online programs marketed to international audiences
  • Student & faculty mobility
  • Twinning arrangements
  • Partnerships
  • Franchising
  • Joint or double degree programs
  • Study centers
  • Affiliations and networks
  • Acquisitions or mergers
  • Research collaborations
  • International branch campuses

Why It’s Important for Higher Education Leaders to Understand Internationalization Options

Every college or university has a different different history, culture, and management approach, and within the realm of internationalization there are many options to “go international.” It’s important to select the right mix of options that address an individual institution’s needs, but do not provide a level of risk its leaders are not comfortable pursuing. Bad press around an international endeavor not only can harm an institution’s brand, but it may also set back internationalization efforts within a university for years to come.

Outlining options and risk levels for internationalization

International branch campuses are the most resource-intensive and riskiest form of internationalization and it is an option that a few universities around the world have used. Significant planning and institutional resources are needed to plan for and maintain an international branch campus. The Cross-Border Education Research Team ( track the openings and closings of international branch campuses, and their database currently 247 are in operation and 42 are known to have closed.

International students bring a lot of value to universities. Keep reading for more info on how to recruit international students.

Creating the Right Balance for an Internationalization Plan

The graphic above adapts Knight’s (2006) internationalization typology and compares the risks associated with an international activity versus other activities. Creating the right mix of internationalization is a difficult process. The challenge is: within an institution, internationalization could be a top-down initiative from a strategic plan where individual schools and colleges within a university respond to the initiative. But internationalization could be also be a bottom-up activity driven by an individual school or department, and its activities are not coordinated with the rest of the university. Managing internationalization holistically, or at least having an understanding of a university’s activities allows an institution’s senior leaders to understand the benefits and risks of their internationalization activities.

Higher education institutions can realize the benefits of internationalization through:

  • Diversifying the student body
  • Offering new cultural contexts within the curriculum to prepare your students to work in a globalized world
  • Expanding your university’s brand
  • New revenue opportunities for a university

It’s important to manage or mitigate the risks associated with internationalization, and we’ll go more into this in depth on this topic in future articles. Risks associated with the international activities listed above, especially as universities engage in more high profile or riskier projects can lead to:

  • Students unable to achieve their academic goals
  • Damage to a university’s brand
  • Loss of revenues
  • An unwillingness by university leaders to take on future international projects

In summation, it is extremely important to identify and mitigate or eliminate these kinds of risks, but higher education leaders have a few tools available to assess, manage, and minimize risks associated with internationalization. Part of mitigating or eliminating these risks involves finding the right mix of internationalization options that align with an institutional mission, its short and longer-term goals, culture, and risk tolerance. To do this effectively, the process of internationalization should be an inclusive conversation that includes senior leaders, deans, heads of academic programs, faculty, students, and alumni so that multiple voices are heard during the planning process.

Advice on international student recruiting

Why Internationalize?

“Why internationalize?” is a complex question with many possible reasons for expanding an institution’s academic operations. Internationalization may be a top down directive as part of a strategic plan where an institution’s senior leaders want to position their university within the ranks of other global universities. Or internationalization may be an effort that begins organically by a professor who understand the importance of thinking globally and infuses her curriculum with international themes. With such a range of internationalization options university stakeholders have important decisions to make around how internationalizing will impact their student, curriculum, culture, and their university.

We’ll be covering these topics in a series of blogs in the coming months, so keep reading!

More Resources

About the Author
Brad BeecherBrad Beecher, Ed.D, is an International Higher Education Researcher & Lead Solution Engineer at He brings 20 years of experience in solutions engineering to helping higher education institutions solve problems with technology. He has extensively researched globalization, the internationalization of higher education, international branch campuses, and global education hubs. He has researched, worked with, and visited international branch campuses located in global education hubs in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea.