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Communicating the ‘why’ of internationalization to the private sector

Are postsecondary institutions clearly communicating information about institutional internationalization plans to stakeholder groups?


When discussing international education and internationalization, most institutions talk about the economic impact of bringing international students to Canada instead of the many other impacts of internationalization. Understandably, replacing international students with numbers and justifying the presence of these students solely through revenue generation (though international recruitment usually only plays a small part in internationalization plans) often results in criticism from stakeholders. Discussing international students in this way will inevitably result in opposition towards internationalization plans in the best case, or, in a worst-case scenario, a full boycott by faculty and the wider community (e.g. the criticism that international students are taking seats from domestic applicants).

Being able to measure and evaluate a strategy is key to helping stakeholders understand the role internationalization plays in higher education. According to a Universities Canada (publisher of University Affairs) survey completed in 2014, 95 per cent of universities’ strategic plans directly include internationalization, but only 39 per cent of those plans had tools to measure quantity and quality of an institution’s internationalization commitments. A strategy without specific metrics, as well as without further communication and collaboration with every stakeholder group, often veers toward misunderstanding.

Comprehensive internationalization is a goal for many postsecondary institutions, but there are significant barriers preventing implementation. One barrier is the inability of institutions to communicate the “why” of internationalization to stakeholders who are both directly and indirectly involved in its processes and outcomes.

It’s specifically important to communicate to three major stakeholder groups why universities should engage in internationalization. It’s also integral to decide what parts of the internationalization (intercultural training, internationalization of curriculum, international research collaboration and study abroad are just a few) need to be fully communicated to these stakeholders. The three major stakeholder groups are:

  1. postsecondary stakeholders, i.e., the education sector;
  2. provincial and federal representatives, i.e., the government sector;
  3. and the wider community, i.e., the private sector (including community and industry stakeholders).

Working with all of these groups constructively is vital, as their buy-in has a huge impact on how successful internationalization will be.

While all three stakeholder groups are equally important when communicating the importance of internationalization, it is the private sector that is very often the last to be consulted (best-case scenario) or not involved at all (worst-case scenario).

There are many important impacts internationalization will have on the private sector, such as economic competitiveness (graduates need to possess skills required to ensure companies thrive in the 21st Century), enhancing diversity of local communities, as well as recognizing that many graduates will work for foreign-owned companies. Because of this, the private sector needs to be invited to the table. It should be able to collaborate with postsecondary institutions to help students understand the knowledge and skills that they need.

One of the most effective ways of communicating to the private sector would be “why we need internationalization” campaigns created by governments and universities.  When provincial governments are planning for the postsecondary sector, international education needs to be part of the conversation. Governments’ postsecondary agendas are widely circulated and assessed by stakeholders from all three of the sectors mentioned, and thus are the most straightforward way to communicate the “why.” Once published, intensive engagement with community associations and industry partners should follow; this is how students are recruited.

By working with our private partners and developing strategic messaging targeted to specific audiences, we can multiply our effective communication, furthering awareness to our holistic “why” and its importance in the future of postsecondary education, as well as immigration in Canada.

Zuzana Schmidtova Ritzer is a team lead, international student support at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary.
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