Panel discussion about how international Higher Education Institutions can also be entrepreneurial and innovative

The final HEInnovate webinar in our 2020 Autumn series hosted a panel discussion on the process of internationalisation in Higher Education Institutions, with a specific focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. Contributors shared reflections on internationalisation strategy and implementation, and on effective university-SMEs collaborations.

The discussion was moderated by Rebecca Allinson, a Managing Partner at Technopolis Group, and engaged the following speakers:

  • Christopher Cripps – Director of International Development at Sorbonne University; Christopher has served in leadership roles in the Higher Education sector for nearly 30 years with an emphasis on International Strategy and Development, Transnational Education projects and International Executive Education; he has been the Director of International Affairs at Sorbonne University since 2019. Previously, Christopher was the Director of International and European Affairs at Université PSL (Paris Sciences & Lettres)
  • Pedro Nuno Teixeira - Director of CIPES, the Center for Research in Higher Education Policies and Professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Porto; he has been serving as an adviser on Higher Education and Science to the President of Portugal since April 2016. He was the Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs at the University of Porto (2014-208) and also a member of Portugal’s National Council of Education (2014-2018)
  • Andreas Zehetner - Professor of Marketing at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria (FH OÖ); since 2013, he has also occupied the position of Vice President of International Affairs, and is member of the university board of management. In this position, he is responsible for international relations with partner institutions, for international outreach and international recruiting across the university’s schools. As a representative of a University of Applied Sciences, he is particularly interested in university-industry connections. 

The audience was polled to ascertain whether their higher education institution had formulated a strategy for internationalisation. Interestingly, three quarters of the responses were positive (with 58% replying yes, and a further 5% reporting that a strategy is incipient), and 26% replying no. The participants contributed by posing questions on how the process of internationalisation could be achieved either by a well-defined institutional strategy, or alternatively using an integrated approach, i.e. embedding internationalisation in schools and research units, social engagement activities and events. 

Pedro presented the dos and don’ts of a systematic approach to internationalisation. He said that an effective strategy must rely on  formal internal communication channels and a careful study of the following points:

  • Rationale
  • Multiple dimensions 
  • Potential challenges
  • Need for good decision making

The rationale of an internationalisation strategy is often unfocussed and not sufficiently thought out, and typically seem to include all possible rationales (academic, economic, social and political). Furthermore, the rationale of internationalisation strategies are sometimes drafted during or after the implementation itself, and not before as it would be advisable in order to align the strategy with the university’s mission. Alignment between the institutional internationalisation strategy on the one hand, and regional and national strategies on the other, is also desirable to gain full support from national and regional governments. This was presented as one of the biggest challenges of internationalisation. The dimensions of the internationalisation process that need to be articulated in the strategy are teaching and learning, research and third mission, with specific policies being formulated for each dimension. With regards to the fourth point (need for good decision making), Pedro stressed the importance of  answering simple questions: What are we doing and why? Who is leading the process? These questions help create a fruitful international strategy because they help clarify the steps the university needs to take to achieve its objectives and help it avoid the unfocussed involvement in ‘international’ activities which may not bring any tangible outcome and may indeed be at odds with its overall mission.

Christopher also focussed on the importance of an internationalisation strategy. Essential elements to ensure that the internationalisation will bring results are: preparing a strategy, setting aside a suitable budget to carry out a programme and dedicating a team to drive the process of internationalisation forward. He added that internationalisation is a long term process which should build on both bottom up ideas (incuding listening to and working with parties that are external to the university), and top down ideas: it is key that the leadership of the HEI is fully involved and engaged to achieve best results, with the president of the Higher Education Institution playing a fundamental role in carrying out the vision. Christopher illustrated three major impacts of internationalisation strategies, drawing examples from his own experience at La Sorbonne university:

  • Impact on teaching: it is important to create opportunities to boost student mobility: even a short time spent abroad is beneficial to graduate students, making them more able to work for future employers internationally. It is also important to create joint courses with partners abroad, to boost doctoral mobility and faculty mobility
  • Impact on research: establishing research collaborations, international fellowship programmes and strategic partnerships can extend expertise, bring in new talent, open up research opportunities, share knowledge and support open science
  • Impact on engagement: it is of key importance for corporate relationships but also in areas that are often overlooked, for example, including non academic members of staff in a mobility plan can be enriching and boost innovation and looking after the relationship with alumni can also bring rewards 

Andreas presented the view that internationalisation need not only be effected through an articulated strategy, but through “a more cross-sectional process” among all different missions of the university, where it can be integrated in schools and departments, research units and social engagement activities. One of the broader questions asked by the audience was indeed whether internationalisation is still a priority, or whether it is already an intrinsic feature to any HEI that wants to be competitive and innovative. There was consensus that internationalisation should be embedded in every mission of the university and that, certainly for more mature higher education institutions, internationalisation should be the de facto way to do things. However, it was argued that internationalisation still requires a strategy for those universities that need to boost internationalisation. An additional comment was that most universities still need internationalisation strategies to keep the objectives in focus and to avoid the risk of a dilution of efforts and outcomes. 

Andreas also presented the view that collaborations between Higher Education Institutions and businesses are effective if there is an exchange of what each side has in return for what they need: universities should exchange their technical and intellectual resources, equipment, passion for research, and graduate students seeking jobs in return for what businesses can offer: financial clout, opportunities to apply innovation to projects, applied research, and jobs; governments can also play a role by exchanging public funding and regulatory power in return for local and national consensus and growth. Since SMEs are the largest sector in the province of Upper Austria, the university’s concern is to guide the interests of faculty, researchers and students to meet the needs and expectations of these enterprises.

The webinar focussed on the process of internationalisation, and its real-life impact on different aspects of HEIs. We learnt how a deeper understanding of internationalisation, a clearer selection of its priorities, and an integration, at institutional level, of bottom-up initiatives can make a significant difference in effectiveness. The impact on each dimension of internationalisation was carefully reviewed, as were the challenges of aligning internationalisation strategies with governmental strategies, and of building a knowledge ecosystem with an international dimension that SMEs can benefit from.

You can watch the recording of the webinar here.

  • Webinar summary
Submitted by:
Zsuzsa Javorka
Submitted on:
11 Jan 2021
Related event date:
17 Dec 2020