The International as Fundamental

Emory's path forward in the world

Philip Wainwright

Vice Provost for International Affairs

Recently, a visiting representative from a prominent Australian university explained to me why Australians have so quickly internationalized their educational system. In the early 1990s, the number of domestic Australians of college age peaked then went into decline. The Australian Ministry of Education intentionally pursued a policy of internationalization, attracting study abroad students from the United States and international degree-seeking students from neighboring countries in Asia. 

This effort was highly organized and effective. Today, approximately 30 percent of students enrolled in Australian institutions are foreign. Australia had built an excellent system of higher education and research infrastructure that would have been significantly weakened if there had not been a willingness to broaden perspective and open up to new populations. Students around the world, particularly in countries with growing middle classes, were hungry for access to the opportunities that Australian universities could provide. 

In the United States, we do not have a Ministry of Education providing us with such clear directives. It is up to individual institutions or state systems to set their own priorities and to decide how to position themselves globally. But the pressures of declining enrollments and increased competition for top students are similar, and U.S. universities must respond.

Chart 2Since I first came to Emory to work at the Center for International Programs Abroad seventeen years ago, internationalization has been one of Emory’s strategic priorities. In the early 1990s, few students studied abroad, and most of the international students were in graduate and professional programs. But as Emory focused on internationalization, the university put important elements into place. In 1993 Emory created the Office of International Affairs to provide strategic guidance for internationalization, and in 1997 the Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning was founded to promote global awareness and programming at Emory. By 1996, Emory’s undergraduate schools were committed to internationalizing their student populations through study abroad. At that point, study abroad was a growing phenomenon nationwide, and Emory had unfulfilled potential to be a leader in this area. Emory students were very interested in studying abroad, but the lack of services and curriculum to support it held them back. 

Once supportive structures were put in place, the percentage of Emory undergraduates studying abroad almost tripled as Emory College, Goizueta Business School, and other schools expanded programming and support. The educational and intellectual rationale behind study abroad centered on the broadening of perspective it provided for students—both for themselves and also for the entire student population as they returned to classrooms on campus and shared their new viewpoints on important issues.

In the 2005 strategic plan, internationalization was included as one of the framing principles, since “the international dimensions of Emory’s community should be manifested in every new initiative.” Emory is international, to be sure—the numbers confirm as much. Over the last ten years, the numbers of international students and scholars have increased and diversified across schools, with numbers in both categories increasing substantially. Growing numbers of Emory students and faculty are active overseas, and the rise of Emory’s international population has affected all units of the university. It is easy to see the parallels between Emory’s increased international engagement and the rise of globalization more generally. This growth can also be seen as part of Emory’s story of evolution from a regional, to a national, to an international university.

Emory has considerable strengths as a center for international scholarship and an institution that engages with issues of global importance. Clear areas of existing strength with broad impact for students include flourishing undergraduate study abroad, an array of courses and degree programs that relate to international and global issues, and a rich set of student organizations engaged in activities related to Emory’s and Atlanta’s international communities and to service abroad. 

Many of Emory’s formal programs and partnerships have an international focus—for example, the Global Health Institute, The Carter Center and the Institute for Developing Nations, the Halle Institute for Global Learning, the international studies major, the Master’s in Development Practice program, the Lillian Carter Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility, and the language and area studies departments and programs, to name a few. Even in areas that are not explicitly international, faculty across the university are globally engaged and are internationally known. Emory is also increasingly attracting scholars of global renown to our campus.

So I would argue that we are not so much confronted with how to make Emory more international as we are with what role Emory should play internationally, or globally. How can Emory take greatest advantage of being an international university? How can the university incorporate its international elements into its core identity? What should Emory look like as a global university, as part of a global network, and as a hub of higher education and research? These are the principal questions that we face as Emory begins a new round of planning to determine its global strategy and works to strengthen its international presence and the international nature of its community at home. 

As I write this, the planning process is just getting off the ground, and I am reflecting on Emory’s successful and sometimes not-so-successful efforts to create a stronger and more coherent international identity. Sifting through the details and metrics of internationalization, I have come to believe that the most immediate challenge facing Emory is the need to move beyond viewing “international” as something outside the realm of “normal.” This is true in our classrooms, in our research facilities, in our patient care settings, in our residence halls—even in our eating facilities. 

Those of us who host international visitors or support and educate international students know that there are some things that we do very well. We provide an excellent education and superb research facilities, and Emory can be a very welcoming community. We have added support over the past few years, including in ESL programming, visa support, and campus life staff. There are significant gaps, however, in how we serve international populations at Emory, and we can do better. We have administrative systems that are not particularly friendly to international visitors and, as an institution, we are not always fully sympathetic to the challenges that international students and scholars face. We must create a supportive environment that promotes the success and acknowledges the value of the international members of our community, and that ensures that Emory enjoys the benefits of an internationally diverse campus.

The most immediate challenge facing Emory is the need to move beyond viewing “international” as something outside the realm of “normal.”

To understand the reasons for thinking about the international as a fundamental part of our community, we can look back to the arguments that supported the expansion of study abroad and also those to the value diversity in general brings to an intellectual community. Diversity fosters new perspectives and enriches our educational and research missions. But we can also look to how global trends are shaping education and research now and in the future. In other countries, systems of higher education under government leadership are using global engagement to maintain and strengthen their institutions by breaking down national boundaries. With college-aged populations now in decline in many countries with highly developed systems of higher education, and with a rapidly expanding demand for excellent education in countries with growing middle classes, the opportunity—even the necessity—for established universities to think globally is clear. 

Emory has great assets and great opportunities. By strengthening our global-mindedness at home, we can expand our impact abroad. The path to fulfilling our educational and research missions in the coming decades is through growing global connections and partnerships. To this end, I hope that Emory can continue to foster faculty and student activity abroad, take full advantage of the internationally diverse populations within the Emory community, and build and maintain systems and infrastructure that support Emory’s stature as a global university.

Twenty years ago, internationalization seemed like a desirable option. Now it is clearly an essential part of the path forward. 

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