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Invited Note
The Necessity of Internationalization of Higher Education

(with an Emphasis on Engineering Education)

Professor Jafar Towfighi Darian, Tarbiat Modares University

Member of the Iranian Society of Engineering Education

Head of the Iranian Scientific Development Society

  • The first point that should be mentioned regarding the internationalization of higher education is the difference between internationalization and globalization. These two concepts are related to each other but they are not synonymous. Globalization refers to the current and future trends in the realms of economics, academia, and so on which are observable in today`s world. However, internationalization is the policies and activities carried out by academic organizations, systems and even individuals in order to participate in the process of globalization. As a result, the internationalization of higher education also includes the activities that are selected by the universities as well as educational and research institutions with the objective of integrating various global and cultural approaches into the educational, research, and service functions of the universities and organizations of higher education. In other words, globalization is inevitable; but, internationalization depends on the choices and decisions of each country.
  • The motivation of each university for internationalization may be political,  cultural,  social,  economic,  and/or   academic.
  1. Political discussions such as the foreign policy of countries, creating national security, peace, dialogue, and upgrading the national identity are among the issues that in recent decades have played a significant role in the internationalization of the higher education system of many countries.
  2. Economic motivations include growth and competitiveness, supplying the academic demand,  entering the work force market, financial motivations and so on.
  3. In the realm of social and cultural issues, one can refer to the role that is played by universities in creating a common dialogue among various cultures as well as providing world class education to individuals.
  4. Academic motivations also include paying attention to the international and intercultural dimensions in research and educational activities as well as elevating the status of higher education organizations which shall be achieved by improving educational quality and standards.
  • In order to achieve the internalization of universities and the higher education system, some activities have been included in the programs of many countries, for instance, inter-border cooperation programs, admission of international students, holding educational courses and issuing the certificates in the English language. Moreover, issues such as internationalization of teaching and learning processes have also been taken into consideration. On the whole, it can be mentioned that internationalization has been turned into a criterion for the evaluation of higher education in different countries. 
  • Heading towards the internationalization of higher education requires comprehension as well as acceptance of a collection of intellectual prerequisites. For instance, accepting the fact that a common dialogue must be created among various cultures and such a dialogue would not be created unless there is mutual respect among various cultures. The creation of such a dialogue is also in need of adopting a flexible approach in dealing with future challenges and conflicts.
  • Among other prerequisites, one can mention the infrastructure that is required for the internationalization of higher education. For instance, the improvement of the students` and faculty members` command in English is one of such prerequisites; since having written and spoken competence in the English language plays a key role in holding as well as succeeding in international programs and plans for exchanging students. On the other hand, since most of the academic sources in the world are in the English language (about 28 percent), the advancement of the students` and faculty members` command in English could facilitate their access to the world`s cutting-edge knowledge and, thus, accelerate the scientific improvement of the higher education system in the country.
  • Among the other tools for the internationalization of the higher education systems, the programs for exchanging students, faculty members and researchers can be mentioned. One of the requirements for the success and increase of such programs is the creation and development of common academic aspirations among different countries. For example, sustainable economic development and a decrease in the emission of greenhouse gases and also an increase in the consumption of green energies are among the activities of different countries in the realm of science and technology. Therefore, in order to specify and operationalize common scientific and research programs, our country should also enhance the programs which are in line with sustainable development and increasing the application of renewable energies.
  • With respect to the determining role of globalization trends, our country should also pay a great attention to this issue and identify as well as consider its strategies for the internationalization of higher education on the basis of global trends since our universities are responsible for further changes, and they are among those organizations that should pave the way for entering different areas and moving towards globalization.
  • Globalization trends in the area of higher education can be categorized into two general groups one of which is related to the content and the other to the quality of education:
  1.  The first group consists of the trends that are predicted to play a significant role in the advancement and achievement of cutting-edge knowledge in different scientific and technological areas. Among such areas, the issues of sustainable development, renewable energies, innovative and advanced technologies, and so on can be enumerated. The higher education system in Iran should be capable of planning and implementing programs to confront such trends so that it can play an influential role in the global areas.
  2. The second group includes the trends that transform and influence the higher educational system in different countries such as virtual education, technologies of learning and digital learning, new educational and teaching methods and programs including mobility programs, collaborative learning, and so on and, therefore, the efforts for the internationalization of higher education also requires advancements of this system in such areas.
  • The significant point in the internationalization of the higher education system is that this process should be in line with well-known and standard norms and principles. Therefore, a collection of principles, rules and regulations should exist in order to adjust the interactions and activities along the way. With respect to such a background, different activities can be implemented in order to internationalize the higher education system in the country:
  1.  Conducting a survey of higher education institutions in the country and in the world with the objective of identifying the current trends and codifying macro-policies. For instance, as it can be seen in the following chart, based on a survey that has been conducted in European countries, European educational institutions have considered the following items as significant  in their internationalization process, respectively:
  •  Improving the quality of the university services
  • Preparing the students for dealing with the globalization phenomenon
  • Catching the attention of international students
  • Advancing the global ranking of the university
  •  Improving the quality of research and development activities
  • Being more competitive with other universities
  • Providing the needs of the market and training the graduates who have the required skills to enter the global markets
  • Financial benefits for the university

  1. Designing and developing new fields of study which are compatible with the globalization trends.
  2. Strengthening of the educational programs in a way that they would benefit from multi-cultural and international content (that is, teaching the courses in English and awarding international certificates)
  3. Increasing international research cooperations
  4. Holding exchange programs of student and faculty members with other universities
  5. Devising virtual and distance-learning educational programs
  6. Implementing developmental projects with the objective of competence improvement
  • In recent years, Europe has conducted beneficial activities in the area of internationalization and it has also considered various programs with other continents of the world. For instance, in 2014, the Global Statement of Discourse on the internationalization of higher education was signed in the Gulf of Nelson Mandela in South Africa by nine national centers in South Africa, six regional organizations, and nine organizations from other parts of the world. The signatories of the Statement have agreed that the internationalization of higher education should give priority to the following three developmental areas:


  1.   Improving the quality and variety of the programs that are aimed at exchanging the students and faculty members.
  2. Increasing the focus on the internationalization of the content of the educational programs and their learning output
  3. Higher attention and commitment of the world`s higher education systems to reasonable and ethical educational co-operations
  • An important point regarding the internationalization programs of the countries at the forefront of this movement, is Paying attention to the private sector and private institutions of higher education. Hence, the status and significance of non-governmental educational institutions should be taken into consideration in the internationalization of the higher education system. 
  • Finally, in order to implement the internationalization objectives of the higher education system in the country, these issues also need to be included in the policies, documents, and macro-programs of the country and there should exist a suitable balance among them.
  • In higher education systems, the engineering programs benefit from a specific status since the mission of these programs is training skillful, expert, and committed professionals as well as the production of science and technology required for solving problems. In today`s world which is exposed to serious crises in terms of energy and the environment, the crisis of water and soil, fossil fuels, the pollution of the rivers and the seas, poverty and starvation, sanitation, and so on, the role that is played by the engineering programs becomes more significant than before. In fact, the output of such programs should have such quality and effectiveness that they can provide the required knowledge, expertise, and technologies to deal with such challenges and pave the way for sustainable development in societies. Obviously most of these challenges are global and do not have a local solution. As a result, they are in need of human beings with global qualifications and merits. Therefore, what has been mentioned regarding the internationalization of higher education would benefit teaching in engineering multifold. Thus, such a necessity requires the universities, especially the faculties of technology and engineering, to increase their attempts more than ever in paving the way and providing the requirements of internationalization. Moreover, by making revisions in the fields of study and the teaching content, and by making changes in the teaching-learning methods as well as by creating a balance in the knowledge, expertise, and insight of students and graduates, the way could be paved for taking steps in this tortuous path. 

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