Study: UK Universities Not as Internationalized As They Believe


A recent study out of the University of Warwick in the UK reveals that higher education institutions are not as internationalized as they consider themselves to be. The researchers say that internationalization ratings shouldn’t take into account only the foreign student and number of foreign staff, but also the extent of student and staff interaction and their networking with British students.

The report discusses how benchmarking ratings by the Times Higher Education, QS World and U-Multirank estimate university internationalization based on structural factors only such as incoming and outgoing student mobility, international joint publications and international diversity.

It is noted that social aspects of internationalization need to be taken into consideration too when assessing the internationalization degree of universities. This will allow institutions to move away from the narrow picture structural aspects provide.

According to the researchers, the smaller the number of UK students in a university, the less happy students of all backgrounds tend to be. In other words, in universities with a high percentage of international students, universal student satisfaction regarding university experience is low. This calls for an agenda for student integration, the researchers observe:

“This does not mean that structural internationalization should be avoided; on the contrary, students appreciate the value of an ‘internationalization’ experience, so what we need is an agenda for integration.”

The researchers assert that the quality of networking between people of different backgrounds is a crucial factor for  international student integration. The researchers also discovered that to develop global skills, classes of mixed nationality students should be encouraged. They conclude:

“So our agenda for integration needs to be applied to the classroom as well as the campus. A truly internationalised university of the future will have to measure its success not only in terms of structural factors like the number/proportion of international students but also by its ability to implement an agenda for integration that will facilitate the development of the ‘global skills’ that employers are seeking in their new employees.”

The report calls out misleading assumptions including how the number of international students at a university automatically results in an integrated student community and automatically improves students’ global skills.

Claire O’Leary, Assistant Director of Warwick’s International Office, says that an integrated and coordinated agenda has to be implemented to achieve true internationalization of students.

She says that although intercultural mixing initiatives are essential, they have to “relate to institutional policy and [be] embedded in an institutional culture that genuinely values cultural diversity.”

She warns that when students don’t perceive their university’s value of intercultural interaction they too are reluctant to make the first step.

Dr. Daniel Dauber, who carried out the study, said that to improve university internationalization, institutions must work on students’ social integration. He adds that in order for a university to “grow into a socially viable organisation” students and staff must by physically brought together as well.