Studying and LIving Abroad Abroad Back In The Day: Alexandria, Egypt

International Education 2030: What Comes Next?

February 24, 2021


What comes next for International Education? The pandemic has opened eyes and minds to the potential of virtual learning as well as its limitations. The distance and cost of studying abroad are also going to be reevaluated for students and families that want a global education experience. To differentiate offerings in a competitive global market, finding elements beyond price and ranking will need be brought to the forefront.

One of those areas in which the United States has a comparative advantage are in the development of the soft skills of integrating information, analysis, communication, and rhetoric. In other words, a liberal arts education. A CEO of a medium size engineering company once told me “I can hire a million engineers who can solve the problem; what I need are engineers who can explain it to the client.” Skill building and credentialing are essential, but there is a real opportunity to augment the technical skills with humanistic skills that can set a candidate apart from the competition. Part of this developmental approach must include a deeper examination of culture and immersion. To truly be effective in a global economy, the graduates of tomorrow must be able to work, travel and thrive across boundaries, cultures, and languages.

However, we face a lingering challenge in this regard. We still lack standardized way to demonstrate across regions and systems that a graduate is globally competent. There has been much work in this area by Milton Bennett , Mitch Hammer , Larry Brasskamp to name a few. While we understand a great deal about how someone becomes internationalized or interculturally competent, we still lack a consistent measure of the kind used in language training for example (CEFR – Common European Framework). What we do have is the research and pedagogy that shows that deeper engagement is crucial to an effective and successful global education program.

Going forward, marketing on the basis of cost, reputational program quality or placement success rates for our graduates will be important, but they are no longer enough to demonstrate quality and effectiveness in the international education space. After all, if you can take the same classes online from the comfort of your home, what is the value-add of traveling across the world to take those classes in person? What we are talking about is a deeper kind of engagement that produces a more authentic experience that is ultimately transformative.

To deliver transformational experiences, hosting institutions and organizations, need to redouble efforts to ensure that students feel welcomed, supported, valued, respected, and represented. Students are making a huge investment in traveling abroad for their education. Colleges and Universities that demonstrate their humanity and their hospitality will be well positioned to succeed as students and families seek something more than just rankings and job placement scores and look for additional, intangible attributes. In Kiswahili, the word Karibu means welcome. But the etymology is deeper than that. The idea it is expressing is one of “drawing nearer.” This hospitality or “nearness,” advances the goal of developing globally competent graduates by modeling our values of being open and available and being willing to accept criticism and respond to critiques. Manifesting our values, or “walking the talk” to put it another way, is going to be a huge point of differentiation in the landscape ahead, where authenticity is going to be the prized coin of the realm. And doing so is good business too. Happy customers are our best source of future referrals.

On the sending side, one change that has long been needed is to leverage the learning opportunity that place can provide. Most U.S. students study abroad in European destinations or Australia. But are they studying IN a location or do they simply happen to be having an education experience AT the host site? As part of re-entry programming for returning students we would ask participants to tell us about a distinctive cultural experience rooted in the place such as a visit to a local home for a meal. Often, the responses would be about the passport stamps acquired and the travel bucket list items checked off. Few could report having a single authentic experience of engaging with local people and culture. Travel is a means to an end, but it is not the end itself. Developing intercultural competence amongst study abroad students has to move beyond the twenty-first century iteration of “The Grand Tour” if it is going to embrace the opportunity that the post-pandemic landscape affords.

So, what will international education look like in 2030? Our guess is that there will be much that looks terribly similar to the field that we have known for many decades. But there also will be significant change. One change will be that institutions that relied on international student mobility as a way to balance the budget without making investment in supporting those students and ensuring their success are likely to lose ground to institutions that are committed to developing the human capital of all members of their community regardless of origin and background.

One thing is for sure as the saying goes, the only constant is change. Nowhere is that truer than in international education.


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Photo Credit: Chris Johnson


Milton Bennett - Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity

Mitchell Hammer - The Intercultural Development Inventory

Larry Brasskamp - Global Perspectives Inventory