INTERNATIONAL HIGHER EDUCATION, Number 62 Winter 2011
The End of Internationalization
Uwe Brandenburg and Hans de Wit
Uwe Brandenburg is project manager at the Centre for Higher Education
Development. E-mail: Uwe.Brandenburg@che-consult.de. Hans de Wit is
professor of internationalization at the School of Economics and Management,
Hogeschool van Amsterdam, University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands. E-
mail: j.w.m.de.wit@ hva.nl.
Over the last two decades, the concept of the internationalization of higher
education has moved from the fringe of institutional interest to the very core. In
the late 1970s up to the mid-1980s, activities that could be described as
internationalization were usually neither named that way, nor carried high
prestige, and were rather isolated and unrelated. The exception was joint
international research, which, however, has never seriously become part of the
internationalization fashion. In the late 1980s, changes occurred:
Internationalization was invented and carried on, ever increasing its importance.
In the past two decades, new components were added to its multidimensional
body, moving from simple exchange of students to the big business of
recruitment and from activities impacting on an incredibly small elite group to a
mass phenomenon. In our view, it is time for a critical reflection on the changing
concept of internationalization.
FROM SUBSTANCE TO FORM
Gradually, the “why and wherefore” have been taken over by the way
internationalization has become the main objective: more exchange, more degree
mobility, and more recruitment. Even the alternative movement of
“internationalization at home” of the late 1990s has shifted rapidly into this
This development coincided with the dawn of a second, rivaling term:
globalization. In fact, it seems that both terms act like two connected universes,
making it impossible to draw a distinctive line between them. Today,
internationalization has become the white knight of higher education, the moral
ground that needs to be defended, and the epitome of justice and equity. The
higher education community still strongly believes that by definition
internationalization leads to peace and mutual understanding, the driving forces
behind programs like Fulbright in the 1950s. While gaining moral weight, its
content seems to have deteriorated: the form lost its substance.
Internationalization has become a synonym of “doing good,” and people are less
into questioning its effectiveness and essential nature: an instrument to improve
the quality of education or research.
THE DEVALUATION OF INTERNATIONALIZATION
On the other side, globalization is loaded with negative connotations and is
considered more predominant than internationalization. This formula sees
internationalization as “good” and globalization as ”evil.” Internationalization is
claimed to be the last stand for humanistic ideas against the world of pure
economic benefits allegedly represented by the term globalization. Alas, this
constructed antagonism between internationalization and globalization ignores
the fact that activities more related to the concept of globalization (higher
education as a tradeable commodity) are increasingly executed under the flag of
internationalization, as the increasing commercialization illustrated at the
conferences of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the Asia Pacific
Association for International Education, and the European Association for
INTERNATIONALIZATION: FROM INNOVATION TO TRADITION
Effectively, this attitude exacerbated the devaluation of internationalization and
the inflation of defensive measures. Nowadays, with the tendency of becoming
advocates rather than pioneers of internationalization, we are no longer the
spearhead of innovation but, rather, defenders of traditions. This creates the
danger of self-depreciation and defensive self-perception—holding firmly onto
traditional concepts and acting on them while the world around moves forward.
We—and the authors explicitly add themselves to the group of “we”—lament
about the loss of real mobility and the commercialization of higher education in
general and its international component in particular. Yet, we lose sight of
innovative developments such as the emergence of the digital citizen for whom
mobility can be at least as virtual as real.
A NEW DAWN? THE POSTINTERNATIONALIZATION AGE
But how can we resume the active role and gain ownership of our own fate? The
main points are the following:
1. We have to move away from dogmatic and idealist concepts of
internationalization and globalization.
2. We have to understand internationalization and globalization in their
pure meanings—not as goals in themselves but rather as means to an end.
3. We have to throw off the veil of ignorance and ask ourselves: Why do
we do certain things and what do they help in achieving the goal of quality of
education and research in a globalized knowledge society? We also have to
regard mobility and other activities as what they really are: activities or
instruments—and therefore by definition not goals in themselves.
4. We should carefully reconsider our preoccupation with instruments
and means and rather invest a lot more time into questions of rationales and
While in need of more philosophy we also require a greater sense of
reality. We cannot continue to assume that certain types of mobility and other
international activities (such as exchanges and study abroad) are good in
themselves and that other types (such as recruitment and transnational
education) are bad. We have to dig deeper, place the options within a new set of
values and rationales, and ensure that we really achieve what is meaningful.
The future of higher education is a global one, and it is our job to help
preparing the higher education world for this. Therefore, what we need are
people who understand and define their role within a global community,
transcending the national borders, and embracing the concepts of
sustainability—equity of rights and access, advancement of education and
research, and much more. But essentially, we need to reaffirm the core role of
universities: to help understand this world and to improve our dealing with it.
Called for is a common commitment at the institutional and personal level of
how we and our students will be prepared to live and work in a global
community. Possibly we must even leave the old concepts of internationalization
and globalization and move on to a fresh unbiased paradigm. The most
important in any case is to rethink and redefine the way we look at the
internationalization of higher education in the present time.