Speech to the “Forum on Internationalization of Higher Education and Student Mobility”
For Immediate Release

Esther Brimmer, Executive Director and CEO, NAFSA

Nimen hao.

Thank you for the invitation to address the China Annual Conference for International Education & Expo. I am honored to join you today.

We have been delighted to have China as a significant presence at recent NAFSA Annual Conferences, this year welcoming a delegation of almost 70, led by Madame ZHOU Yan, Deputy Secretary General of the China Education Association for International Exchange. The nearly 10,000 participants at our conference each year benefit greatly from learning about international education programs in China and gaining a deeper appreciation for the rich blend of cultures here. The China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE), our host for this conference, is also a Member of NAFSA’s Global Partners Program, and we appreciate our continued cooperation.

NAFSA was founded in 1948 as the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers. As the name suggests, its core was international student advisors and administrators who were focusing on foreign students coming to the United States. NAFSA helped foster a profession around the field of international student programming and administration. In the 1970s, NAFSA expanded its focus to outbound education abroad administrators. More recently, we have also supported internationalization at home as a way to bring global learning to those who may not be able to travel. We also advocate for international education in general. We are honored to have nearly 10,000 members at over 3,500 institutions in 150 countries.

NAFSA serves international educators and their institutions and organizations by:

  • Establishing principles of good practice;
  • Providing training and professional development opportunities;
  • Providing networking opportunities; and
  • Advocating for international education.

NAFSA’s members share a belief that international education:

  • Advances learning and scholarship;
  • Builds understanding and respect among different peoples;
  • Enhances constructive leadership in the global community; and
  • Fosters peace, security, and well-being.

True to our legacy of the past 70 years and to our modernization goals, NAFSA continually seeks to educate people on the importance of international education to international relations and to creating globally-competent young people.

Today’s forum focuses on “Internationalization of Higher Education and Student Mobility.” I would like to discuss three aspects of international education and internationalization. I will discuss

  1. Excellence in internationalization and global learning;
  2. The importance of international education to modern international relations; and
  3. The importance of international education mobility.

Excellence in Internationalization and Global Learning

I will begin with internationalization and global learning. I will use the phrase “international exchange” to cover the movement of students and scholars to countries other than their own for an educational purpose. I will use the term, “global learning” to refer to the incorporation of ideas, materials, or people from other countries into the educational process. I will use “internationalization,” in particular, as an umbrella term to refer to strategies to expand international exchange and global learning on one’s own campus.

In NAFSA’s publication, Comprehensive Internationalization: From Concept to Action, John Hudzik defines internationalization as:

Comprehensive internationalization is a commitment, confirmed through action, to infuse international and comparative perspectives throughout the teaching, research, and service missions of higher education.

Each year, NAFSA heralds excellence in internationalization in the United States through NAFSA’s annual Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization. With our award for comprehensive internationalization we recognize U.S. institutions where internationalization has been broadly infused into all facets of the campus. Our Spotlight award highlights specific programs of outstanding merit.

NAFSA notes that:

  • Successful higher education internationalization is embedded into the core mission of the university.
  • Higher education internationalization today requires strategic international partnership-building, which can include measures such as research collaboration, dual degrees, branch campuses, joint faculty publications.
  • Curriculum internationalization, global learning, or internationalization at home are critical components to ensure globally competent graduates.
  • Creating an international community on campus enhances global learning;
  • It is important to extend international opportunities to underrepresented students;
  • Higher education internationalization is more than international exchange, and more than mobility.

Internationalization enables educators to bring a wide range of experiences into the classroom and can help advance diversity and inclusion in education. At NAFSA, we work to create international education opportunities for more students in a wide variety of colleges and universities. We want to diversify the number and types of students who study outside their home country and widen the range of places to which they travel. However, we know that a large majority of U.S. students will never study abroad. Yet interest in study abroad is high—81% of students want to go, but the majority will run into institutional, curricular, financial, or cultural barriers that prevent them from going abroad. Right now, less than 2% of U.S. college students study abroad each year. By graduation only 10% will have had an international education experience. For ninety percent of students, their window on the world will be on their home campus. They may not be able to travel to the world, but as international educators, we can help bring the world to them.

Importance of International Education to Modern International Relations

Next, I will turn to my second theme, the importance of international education to modern international relations. Our global community is intricately connected and our education systems need to prepare us to thrive in an interdependent world.

For decades, international education has made a great contribution to cooperation in international relations. One of the great developments is the importance of individual people. People to people contacts build understanding. Through open academic exchanges, we have helped millions forge connections, gain new experiences, and expand horizons. The vibrant exchange of people and ideas has helped modernize curricula and develop a spirit of cooperation. In this way, the essential contribution of our work to successful international relations, global preparedness, and mutual security has served the world exceedingly well for decades.

As international education leaders, we know first-hand that academic and cultural exchanges build the sinews that bind countries together. The exchange of people and ideas has helped to create the modern world, and it will continue to foster modernization in our education systems. For over 70 years, NAFSA has worked to advance international education. Our core values are expressed in the first paragraph of our Strategic Plan, “We believe that international education lies at the core of an interconnected world characterized by peace, security, and well-being for all. NAFSA believes that diversity in our classrooms, our communities, and our workplaces is our strength.” Generations of NAFSAns have contributed to this legacy.

Now I will turn to my third theme, the importance of international education mobility.

The Importance of International Education Mobility

At a time when the forces of division have been gaining momentum, it is even more important that we maintain our international ties through collaborations between academic institutions.

The good news is that the majority of higher education institutions worldwide are committed to building global ties and incorporating internationalization onto their campuses. Close to two-thirds of the universities across the world, including institutions in the United States and China, have recognized internationalization as a vital component to their growth and development. Moreover, students and scholars around the Asia-Pacific region are eager to learn in each other’s countries.

The academic links between China and the United States have greatly strengthened over the past few decades. Since the 1970s, we have worked together to increase exchanges between our two countries, and our efforts have yielded rewarding results. As you may know, incoming students from China make up the highest percentage of international students who choose to study in the United States, and they add remarkable vibrancy to our campuses. In the 2016-2017 academic year, 350,755 Chinese students were enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions. China is also one of the leading destinations for U.S. students studying abroad. In the 2015-2016 academic year, 11, 688 American students studied abroad in China.

We appreciate China’s work to welcome international students, including from the United States, and provide support for their academic and professional careers. Changes in China’s regulations for foreign visas which allow international students to remain in China for a time after graduation—thereby bolstering their studies with hands-on work experience and giving them opportunities to stimulate economic growth and global progress—are the kinds of actions that make international education more attractive.

International education has been included in China’s most recent Five Year Plan, including an effort to strengthen partnerships among higher education institutions abroad. We look forward to continuing to build strong ties among higher education institutions in the United States and China.

In the United States, the Department of Education and the Department of State recognized the importance of international education. Many of our political leaders today, including prominent members of United States Congress in both political parties, firmly support international education and exchange and want to sustain funding for these vital programs.

Unfortunately, some U.S. policymakers do not fully appreciate the contributions of international education. Some have sought to limit exchanges excessively. Despite political rhetoric that may cause the United States to seem isolationist, it has been encouraging to see academic institutions redouble their support for international education and make it clear that welcoming talent to our institutions is an asset, not a threat. U.S. higher education institutions are working tirelessly to ensure our campuses are welcoming and inclusive and to help students navigate a complicated and often confusing immigration system.

For example, Temple University spearheaded the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign to assure international students that they will always have a place in our communities. And at NAFSA’s Annual Conference & Expo earlier this year, they announced a scholarship specifically for international students seeking an education in the United States.

At the heart of internationalization is recognizing that diversity is a great strength. By growing sincere connections with a diverse set of people while pursuing an international education, our graduates are laying the foundation for greater peace and mutual security as they prepare to lead our international community into the future.

Both the United States and China are countries that value education and continually look toward the future. This conference reaffirms the power international education has to forge lasting bonds and foster progress around the world, and it confirms to me that even amidst disheartening trends, we can ensure higher education remains on a forward-looking course.

As long as we continue working together to uphold the institutions and connections that make our countries and the world stronger, I am confident we will succeed in creating a more globally engaged and welcoming international community and preparing our graduates to lead us into a more modernized, prosperous future.