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Stepping up study and internship abroad

– a strategy for enhanced outbound mobility in the academy profession and professional bachelor education programmes

5.2. Models for organising the internationalisation effort

The educational institutions’ approach to and organisation of the internationalisation effort influence how the effort is focused and to what results this effort eventually leads.

On this background, a mapping has been made of models for organising the internationalisation effort with a view to presenting various paradigms for the institutions’ internationalisation work that may contribute to inspiring, systematising, and create increased awareness of the approach of the individual institution to the internationalisation work.

Approaches to internationalisation

The approaches to internationalisation vary widely and are affected by many factors. Previously, primarily academic ambitions and motives have driven the internationalisation efforts of the institutions whereas the ambition to build a worldwide reputation and to cultivate alternative sources of income have become more prominent as motive powers in recent years. However, a renewed focus on strengthening the international and intercultural insight and competences of the students and teachers is also seen.

Mapping of models for organising the internationalisation effort

The purpose of the mapping is to present models and principles for the organisation of the internationalisation effort of tertiary educational institutions on the basis of research results and international experience.

The mapping presents various internationalisation models, including various approaches to, dimensions of, and indicators for internationalisation together with a review of Dutch and Norwegian experiences viewed in relation to various organisation models.

The mapping is developed on the basis of reports prepared within the framework of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE), and the Nordic Quality Assurance Network in Higher Education (NOQA). In addition, recent research in internationalisation has been involved.

The survey was carried out by The Danish Evaluation Institute (EVA): Models for organising the internationalisation effort (2009), EVA.

Table 5.1: Approaches to internationalisation

Activity focused

Focus on activities such as exchange stays, academic programmes, institutional contacts, and development projects.

Result oriented

Focus on desired results, e.g. student competences, more international agreements, new opportunities for development and research cooperation, etc.

Rationale based

Focus on wishes to enhance cultural diversity, raise academic standards, branding, etc.

Process oriented

Focus on gradually integrating the international dimension into the fields of practice of the educational institution.

Focused on domestic efforts

Focus on establishing an international ambience on campus.

Focused on transnational efforts

Focus on offering the education programmes of the institution across country boundaries – either offered abroad or through collaboration with foreign institutions on joint study programmes.

In other words, the educational institutions’ motives for internationalisation may be multiple. The overview below lists miscellaneous types of institutional approaches to internationalisation; they are not mutually exclusive.

There are different dimensions within the various approaches that each educational institution may choose to apply to the work of developing and integrating international activities in practice. For example, such dimensions could be:

  • Mobility for students and teachers
  • Joint study programmes
  • International contacts
  • Partnerships and projects
  • International programmes
  • International research initiatives
  • “Internationalisation at Home”
  • Offers of international counselling
  • Grant schemes
  • Arrangement of internships abroad
  • Offers of education programmes/ degrees abroad.

The majority by far of the educational institutions have prepared an internationalisation strategy that lay down the internationalisation goals of the institution in different ways. Internationalisation strategies serve as guidelines for the internationalisation effort and may be drawn up at widely different levels of ambition.

It is possible to distinguish between three different types of institutional internationalisation strategies:

  • Institutional strategic plans
  • Internationalisation documents
  • Departmental plans

Most of the educational institutions begin by establishing institutional strategic plans as a means of identifying the institution’s overall objectives of internationalisation and then go on to develop more operational internationalisation documents and possibly also departmental plans. Some institutions prefer overall institutional strategic plans because they create a consolidated vision and give great flexibility in the implementation. Internationalisation documents are better suited when the institutions prefer a precise and detailed planning. For some educational institutions, a combination of these types is ideal, for example when institutional strategic plans are combined with departmental plans in order to help the individual fields of study in creating an explicit connection between the overall visions of the institution and the actual practice.

Research shows that the uniquely most significant factor in supporting internationalisation in an institution is that the management is committed and actively supports the activities. The absence of managerial support is a frequent and significant cause when internationalisation is not prioritised in an institution or in parts of the institution. Successful implementation of international initiatives requires in particular that the body of teachers is involved in the undertakings because they are the ones who first and foremost shall promote the international dimension to the students.

Indicators for internationalisation

The degree of internationalisation in the individual educational institution may be difficult to measure.

One way of measuring the degree of internationalisation is by setting up indicators by which each institution may evaluate itself. Indicators may contribute to making the internationalisation effort measurable and make the different dimensions of internationalisation visible.

Below there is a list of indicators that have been developed in a European project within the framework of the Bologna Process in order to ensure that the educational institutions may pursue their own strategies for internationalisation without being squeezed into a common and predefined template and yet be compared with others.

Indicators for internationalisation of institutions of higher education 14
  1. Strategy and management
    • Does the educational institution have a strategy for internationalisation?
    • Do the faculties/departments have plans of action for internationalisation?
  2. Organisation and finances
    • Does the educational institution have earmarked funds for internationalisation?
    • How many employees with internationalisation as their primary area of work does the institution have?
  3. Institutional agreements regarding internationalisation and institutional anchoring
    • How many agreements does the educational institution have?
    • How many agreements resulted in activities in the past year?
  4. Outbound and inbound student mobility
    • Does the educational institution have a strategy for increasing the number of outbound students?
    • What share of the total student population went abroad in the past study year, per destination country and per academic field?
    • Does the institution have a strategy for recruiting international students? • What share of the total student population were inbound students in the past academic year, per destination country and per academic field?
  5. Information and profiling
    • Does the institution have a plan for international profiling?
    • Is the information available in English (including a web site in English)?
  6. Study programmes and cooperation on education programmes and degrees
  7. Employees and teachers
  8. Administration and infrastructure

14 Prepared as a part of a European project with participation of 12 institutions from seven countries with a view to develop indicators of internationalisation. SIU (Det norske Senter for internasjonaliserg af høgre utdanning, the Norwegian Centre for internationalisation of higher education).

Models for organising the internationalisation effort

The way the educational institutions organise their internationalisation efforts may by and large be spread out on two axes. The horizontal axis shows the degree of strategic anchoring of the internationalisation effort and goes from fully integrated internationalisation to individual, independently delimited internationalisation activities (ad hoc). The vertical axis shows the degree of centralisation of the internationalisation and goes from all the activities being rooted in one place in the institution to the situation where the activities exclusively take place in decentralised units.

Model for organising the internationalisation effort 15


15 The horizontal axis shows the degree of strategic anchoring of the internationalisation effort. The vertical axis shows the degree of centralisation of the internationalisation effort.

Table 5.2: Models for organising the internationalisation effort


This is the most structured model that places the highest demands on planning in the educational institution. The internationalisation has been carefully systematised and integrated into the strategic foundation of the institution. The efforts have been rooted in a central unit, typically an international office which has the responsibility to launch new initiatives and enter and maintain agreements and collaboration relations. Frequently, a person in top management has the direct responsibility for the international work of the institution. The challenge for institutions that follow this model is to ensure that the academic environments feel that they are involved and therefore contribute to the implementation of the initiatives coming from central quarters.


Educational institutions that follow this model also integrate their international ambitions in the key strategic documents but leave the practical implementation to the individual units of the institution. There may be a central international office but it will typically focus on administrative and overall counselling tasks, whereas entering agreements and developing initiatives take place in the academic environments. The advantage of this kind of organisation is that the academic environments become directly committed to realising the institutional goals. On the other hand, there is the risk of budding and overlapping initiatives unless the academic environments coordinate with each other.

Ad hoc/centralised

Educational institutions that fall within this model are typically in one of two situations: Either they have just started building up their international activities and have therefore not yet reached the stage where they are ready to develop a proper strategy for internationalisation. Or they have chosen to concentrate on internationalisation in a few areas and do not feel that there is a need to embed them in the rest of the activities of the organisation. Centralisation of the activities would also be typical for a smaller institution. The benefit of this kind of organisation is that it gives a great flexibility combined with the facility of centralised control of the initiatives that are launched, whereas the particular challenge is the lack of a unified direction of the initiatives and the risk of losing the overview or to insufficient funding of the initiatives.

Ad hoc/decentralised

Educational institutions may fall in this category for widely different reasons. However, common to all of them is the lack of central control and direction of the international activities. The institutions may be characterised by anything from a high and wide level of activities to a total absence of international commitment. The advantage of this kind of organisation is that it allows a great freedom for ‘fiery souls’ who wish to do the job themselves, whereas the challenges are the absence of plans for the initiatives that may be launched in the academic environments and the lack of guarantee that they can be funded or coordinated.