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Multi-Nationalism and Globalization in Higher Education

The EvoLLLution | Multi-Nationalism and Globalization in Higher Education
Internationalization and multi-nationalization are truths of today’s higher education industry, but few institutions are working to expand and partner to truly act on this fundamental shift.

At the age of 60, I am still much too young to reflect on a life in higher education—but for the purposes of this article, I shall nevertheless review one particular aspect of it: internationalization.

As I have had the fortune to be at the forefront of internationalization for many years, such a reflection is not so much a (ego) trip down memory lane, but rather a road map for once-unknown territories.

Nowadays, nearly every university or college has embraced the importance of internationalization—if not in deed, then at least in word. In a world that is now economically, culturally and socially globalized, higher education cannot be immune.

This is why our graduates rightly expect us to prepare them well for tomorrow’s realities; they will need to prosper in a global environment. My own view has always been that this is not just inevitable, but actually offers enormously exciting opportunities for institutions, students and for myself.

Embracing International Opportunities

When I first entered academia at my alma mater Utrecht University, I immediately embraced those international opportunities through teaching and research abroad.

In those days, the academics with an international outlook were referred to as “the cosmopolitans.” Taking advantage of the launch of the European staff and student mobility program ERASMUS around the mid-eighties, some of those cosmopolitans pushed for what one might call institutional internationalization.

For me, this triggered a move into university administration as well as a physical move to Erasmus University Rotterdam. My task was to internationalize the university, something which I quickly realized required more than a part-time appointment.

In 1993, I continued this work with a senior management appointment at the University of Westminster, which until then had been focused on the students of Central London. Over the years, it pioneered internationalization in the UK, making it an integral part of its operations and receiving several prestigious prizes. These include winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Export sector twice, which is the highest business award in the UK.

I mention this here because it reflects that internationalization has academic value as well as paramount importance to growing revenue in the university. When I left, international revenue for this university was higher than funds received from national funding for teaching and research.

Thus we see a journey from marginal to structural internationalization. By structural I mean that being international had become an integral part to all of the university’s operations and was well articulated in the mission, vision, values and image/brand.

But this is not even half of the story. In 2003, I indicated what I saw as the next part of the journey in a short publication, called The Multinational University, exploring the route from internationalization to multi-nationalization.

With The Multinational University, I described an educational institution that operates on a worldwide scale whilst still retaining a clear geographic base. A significant part of the multinational university’s revenue has an international origin—I suggested over a quarter.

The operation of this university might include (but is not limited to) a network of branch campuses around the world, and I argued that this form of multi-nationalism would be gaining in strength.

Increasing Numbers of International Students

Thirteen years later, it seems branch campuses still have a high profile (as well as a mixed track record). But the global trend of transnational programs delivered through partnerships has been even more pronounced, particularly internationally franchised degree programs and degree-specific twinning arrangements like 2+2 or 3+1.

In the UK, the number of international students on such transnational programs is now starting to exceed the number of international in-country students by a wide margin. So far, American universities have been slower to benefit from this trend—likely due to restrictive regulations.

The emergence of the multinational university is liable to accelerate, as my 2003 publication predicted. One reason for this is the rapid evolution of various types of online provision.

While conventional provision continues to evolve steadily but slowly, online programs have in recent years been developing spectacularly in the quality, sophistication of study experience, and learning effectiveness.

The True Meaning of Global

Online is no longer a student, a PC and downloaded files. A wide range of blended delivery modes have been introduced. In didactic terms, online programs are less and less a replacement of classroom teaching. Instead, they have started to play to their own strengths, offering bespoke learning efficiencies that are impossible in traditional settings.

A much higher level of consumer confidence in virtual services has combined with a capability for interaction and humanization that was previously technically impossible. This is likely to have a major impact on higher learning in general, and more specifically is likely to be an important factor in the growing multi-nationalization of tertiary education.

Remote delivery with partner institutions abroad, brick-and-mortar operations in foreign countries, and virtual provision of education with support on a global scale are the three key elements that enable an international university to become multinational.

Have we reached the end of the international journey with multinational universities? No, absolutely not. But the next stage requires some seriously innovative strategies, and is a more realistic avenue for private sector education providers. In 2012, I entered the for-profit sector, where I was given the unique opportunity to move higher education from multinational to truly global.

For branding purposes, many universities claim they are global—but in The Multinational University, I reserved that title for a well-defined and quite rare type of institution. The global university, I argued then, no longer has a specific geographic anchor or image. As I wrote, its aim is to be seen as an “international chain of local universities.”

In that sense, the global education provider acts “glocal.” Though part of a worldwide family, the organization actually operates just as much at a global level as it does at a local or national level. It has no desire to be associated with a specific culture and nationality. It is a network, group, or system of institutions, each with local roots yet taking advantage of worldwide operations.

Integrating Multi-Nationalism and Internationalism

Global University Systems was formally established at the end of 2012, emerging from the privately owned London School of Business and Finance. The concept was heavily inspired by The Multinational University and its definition of a global university.

Unlike other private sector global operators, GUS is not a group or network but a system. It has well-defined central services (especially a sector-leading marketing operation), cost-efficient back offices, a range of campus facilities from Vancouver to Singapore, an innovative online platform, and an ever-increasing range of academic disciplines.

The Global System is partly created through acquisitions, but also through partnerships and affiliations with public and not-for-profit education providers. It even includes non-educational organizations, such as Liverpool Football Club and a range of major corporations and employers.

If we see internationalization as evolving from incidental to marginal to structural, then we can define multi-nationalization as a logical next step for institutions that embrace a more entrepreneurial approach and recognize global opportunities.

However, the global education provider is in many ways the result of globalization. Now internationalization and multi-nationalization have been fully integrated into the very existence of the organization. The Global University does not aim to replace more conventional institutions, but through partnership and affiliations it can interact with them. It reinforces the internationalization and multi-nationalization of other institutions, whilst benefiting from the reputation of the partner institution in return.

It is through the interaction between those levels (incidental, marginal and structural) that I discovered that the journey of international higher education is not a simple linear road at all, but should be perceived like a road spiraling upwards. In this way, the global organization can interact with each institution on the road, smoothing the journey upwards through guidance, sharing resources, investment, and by eliminating commercial risks.

It will be our graduates who really gain from these interactions, and ultimately, that should be the main objective of anyone who dedicates his or her life to education.

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