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Profiling Internationalisation: Frameworks, Tools, and Indicators

If we are to measure anything, we need to know what we are trying to measure and why. For internationalisation, this makes things particularly challenging because there are so many different perspectives and interpretations of the concept. For example, it can be seen as any (or all) of the following (Knight, 2004):

  1. A range of international activities, e.g. academic mobility for students & staff; international projects & partnerships; international research initiatives.
  2. Delivery of education to other countries through new types of arrangements (transnational education).
  3. Inclusion of an international, intercultural and/or global dimension into the curriculum & learning process.

Numerous definitions of internationalisation have been suggested, as shown below. The most widely quoted is probably that by Jane Knight (2004). At that time, she argued that any inclusion of a rationale for internationalisation (e.g. as in Sõderqvist’s, 2002, definition) was undesirable because it precluded it functioning as a comprehensive definition. Since then, there has been an increasing move to include a rationale for internationalisation, as illustrated in the definitions given by de Wit and colleagues (2015) and Yemini (2015).

Key definitions of Internationalisation

The internationalisation of a higher education institution is a change process from a national higher education institution to an international higher education institution leading to the inclusion of an international dimension in all aspects of its holistic management in order to enhance the quality of teaching and learning and to achieve the desired competencies. (Sõderqvist, 2002, p. 29)

The process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions or delivery of post-secondary education. (Knight, 2004, p. 11)

[Internationalisation is] the intentional process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education, in order to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff, and to make a meaningful contribution to society. (De Wit, Hunter, Howard, & Egron-Polak, 2015, p. 29)

[Internationalisation is] the process of encouraging the integration of multicultural, multilingual, and global dimensions within the education system, with the aim of instilling in learners a sense of global citizenship. (Yemini, 2015, p. 21)

Nevertheless, all too often the focus has been merely on the activities associated with internationalisation, and this has led Brandenburg and De Wit (2011) to lament as follows:

the “why and wherefore” have been taken over by the way internationalization has become the main objective: more exchange, more degree mobility, and more recruitment.

They go on to argue that the focus needs to shift to the ‘why’: “Why do we do certain things and what (sic) do they help in achieving the goal of quality of education and research in a globalized knowledge society?”

The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (Vereniging Hogescholen) and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) (2018) have done some very interesting work in this area. They argue that internationalisation contributes to the three core functions of education: socialisation, personality development and qualification. They then explain how internationalisation can contribute positively to each of these. We provide a very summary below.

Why internationalise?

Internationalisation and socialisation. Internationalisation brings students into contact with other cultures. This experience stimulates students to reflect upon their own culture and traditions.

Internationalisation and personality development. Internationalisation helps students develop into autonomous, self-reliant and independent individuals.

Internationalisation and qualification. It is therefore important that students can acquire both international insights and knowledge and 21st century skills in their study programmes and prepare themselves for work on global issues in an international context.

The contribution made by internationalisation to the solving of societal problems. The open and international character of our higher education and research is of increasing importance to the resolving of societal issues.

Research and science almost always take place in a global context. By embracing international collaboration, researchers bring complementary knowledge and information together. This leads to new and far-reaching insights, at a faster speed.

(Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (Vereniging Hogescholen) and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), 2018, pp. 11-12)

This re-orientation is reflected in a more recent comment by Jane Knight:

the intent of internationalization is not to become known as an international institution per se, but to use the “integration of international, intercultural or global dimensions into the goals, functions and delivery of education” as a means to improve or achieve academic objectives of the institution or socio-cultural, economic, or political goals of the country/region. (Knight, 2015, p. 108)

She goes on to point out that there is an increasing interest in measuring internationalisation. We provide an overview of some well-known ones here, presenting them by the level at which they function: national, institutional, programme, and interpersonal/interactional.

Profiling at the National level

British Council: 'The Shape of Global Higher Education' research series

In 2016, the British Council launched ‘The Shape of Global Higher Education’ research series. The main objectives of the series are to evaluate countries’ policies on international higher education and to identify areas which are supported by national governments; in other words, to provide insights on national policy contexts of internationalisation. In their first two reports, they reported on a number of countries in different parts of the world as well as on transnational education. Since then they have issued regional reports on the ASEAN region, Europe, and the Americas.

For each report they use a consistent framework (British Council, 2016, p. 6), as shown below:

Overview: Categories & Indicators Weight
1. Openness and mobility: International higher education strategy; Student mobility policies; Academic mobility and research policies; Programme and provider mobility. 0.33
2. Quality assurance and degree recognition: International students’ quality assurance and admissions; Quality assurance of academic programmes; Recognition of overseas qualifications. 0.33
3. Access and sustainability: Student mobility funding; Academic mobility and research funding; Sustainable development policies. 0.33

On their website, they explain each of the above main categories as follows:

Openness: government-level commitment to internationalisation; environment enabling international mobility of students, researchers, academic programmes and university research;

Quality assurance and recognition: A regulatory environment to facilitate the international mobility of students, education providers and academic programmes.

Access and sustainability: Promoting student/academic mobility and international research collaboration; consideration of possible unintended consequences of internationalisation.

Profiling at the Institutional level

The most widespread level at which internationalisation is measured is institutional. There are two main approaches: systems for publicly ranking universities by primarily objective criteria, and more in-depth survey and/or qualitative approaches.

Public ranking systems

Four main organisations provide world university rankings: Times Higher Education (THE), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), U-Multirank and Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). The latter does not provide any specific measure of internationalisation and so is not included here. Criteria used by the other three are as shown in the table below. Further information on their criteria is available on their websites.

Criteria used by organisations for ranking universities for internationalisation

As can be seen, with the exception of ‘international reputation metric’ used by the THE, nearly all of the others are objectively countable criteria. Other frameworks, outlined below, offer a much more in-depth picture.

Other frameworks/indicators
International Association of Universities (IAU) Survey

Since 2003, the IAU has conducted global surveys on the internationalization of higher education. They take place approximately every four years and report on institutional level policies and strategies on internationalisation. Electronic invitations, with a link to the questionnaire, are sent to the heads of higher education institutions and, when available, to heads of international offices of those institutions.

An executive summary of the 4th (2014) survey is provided by Egron-Polak and Hudson (2014). Details of the design of the survey do not seem to be publicly available, but judging from the executive summary, questions cover the following areas:

  • Internationalization policy/strategy and infrastructural supports
  • Importance of internationalization and expected benefits
  • Internal and external drivers of internationalization
  • Risks of internationalization to institutions and to society
  • Internal and external obstacles
  • Geographic priorities in internationalization
  • Values and principles in internationalization policy
  • Priority internationalization activities
  • Funding of internationalization
  • International student enrolment
  • Outgoing student mobility
  • Recruitment of international students
  • Faculty members’ international experience and mobility
  • Internationalization at home
  • Learning outcomes
  • Joint and dual/double degree programs
  • Language study

The 2019 report is due later in 2019. Marioni, Egron-Polak and Green state that replies to the current survey were received from 907 institutions from 126 countries around the world.

EAIE Barometer

Another institutional-level survey is that of the European Association for International Education (EAIE). The EAIE runs a survey, the EAIE Barometer: Internationalisation in Europe (second edition). It maps the form and function of internationalisation of higher education in the EHEA, as viewed by practitioners working on the process at higher education institutions (HEIs) in Europe. A total of 2317 individual respondents from 45 EHEA countries and 1292 unique institutions completed the 2nd edition of the Barometer survey (Sandström & Hudson, 2018).

Topics covered in the survey are as follows:

  • Internationalisation goals and priorities
    • Internationalisation activities
    • Strategic priority activities
    • Internationalising according to the goals
  • Internal environment
    • Internationalising strategy
    • Management and organisation
    • Training on internationalisation
    • Quality assurance
  • Impact of the external environment: EU and national policies
    • EU policies
    • National policies
  • Challenges of internationalisation
    • Internal challenges
    • External challenges
IMPI (Indicators for Mapping and Profiling Internationalisation)

The IMPI Project developed a toolbox of indicators and related objectives and activities for European higher education institutions which allow them to individually define a level of internationality, corresponding with their institutional goals. It provides options for comparison on the one hand but also offers opportunities for HEIs to choose their individual profile of internationalisation. The toolbox comprises a very large number of indicators; for example, there are 32 indicators regarding study abroad, and 39 indicators on funding and finance for internationalisation.

Another institutional level framework is CeQuint. However, since that also has a programme level version, we review it below at that level.

Profiling at the Programme level

CeQuInt, Certificate for Quality in Internationalisation

The stated aim of CeQuInt is to assess the quality of internationalisation at programme and/or institutional level. A successful assessment leads to the award of the ECA Certificate for Quality in Internationalisation. This Certificate confirms that a programme or an institution has successfully incorporated an international and intercultural dimension into the purpose, function and delivery of its education.

The framework for assessing the quality of internationalisation at programme level is shown below. It comprises five standards, each of which is defined by three criteria.

Standard 1 Intended internationalisation: Supported goals, verifiable objectives, impact on education
Standard 2 International & intercultural learning: Intended learning outcomes, student assessment, graduate achievement
Standard 3 Teaching & learning: Curriculum, teaching methods, learning environment
Standard 4 Staff: Composition, experience, services

Standard 5

Students: Compositions,experience, services

Assessment is done through a self-evaluation report and a site visit.

Profiling at the Interpersonal/Interactional level (Students & Staff)

The Global Education Profiler (GEP)

Student surveys, such as the National Student Survey and the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey run in the UK, and the Student Barometer/International Student Barometer run in many countries worldwide, are widely used for obtaining feedback from students on their university experiences. These surveys have few if any questions relating to internationalisation per se, and the Global Education Profiler (GEP) was developed at the University of Warwick to address this gap.It is now licensed to i-graduate.

The GEP is a needs analysis/diagnostic tool that helps identify what kind of global learning environment students and staff aspire to and are experiencing. It focuses on the interpersonal/interactional level and uses the GlobalPeople Growth Model as its foundation. There are two complementary versions: one for students and one for staff, both academic and professional services. The tool focuses on elements that help foster and evidence ‘global fitness’ – the personal strengths and competencies needed for today’s globalising world. The constructs measured are as shown below. Items probing each construct are answered in two ways: ‘importance to me’ and ‘my actual experience/ease of handling’, yielding insights into people’s aspirations as well as their experiences. Participants also have the opportunity to make open comments.

GEP constructs in Student version

GEP constructs in Staff version
All staff

  • Social integration
  • Academic integration
  • Global opportunities & support
  • Communication skills
  • Foreign language learning
  • Workplace life: identification and integration
  • Global fitness: global personal strengths & global communication skills
  • Global development opportunities: global skills support & foreign language skills development
  • International collaborations: knowledge and relations
Academic/Teaching staff Professional services staff
  • Student engagement in class
  • Teacher engagement with students
  • Global curriculum
  • Class composition
  • Workplace relations

The GEP has been licensed to i-graduate and in the spring/early summer of 2019 has been used by the COIMBRA group to benchmark internationalisation across their network. Findings from the first major dataset have been published in an academic journal (open access) and in a policy briefing. Additional information, including an interactive dashboard with pilot data, is available via the GEP Profiler page of the GlobalPeople website.


Brandenburg, U., & De Wit, H. (2011). The end of internationalization. International Higher Education, 62(Winter), 15–17.

British Council. (2016). The Shape of Global Higher Education: National Policies Framework for International Engagement: International Higher Education, British Council. Available at

De Wit, H., Hunter, F., Howard, L., & Egron-Polak, E. (2015). Internationalisation of Higher Education. Brussels: Policy Department, Directorate General for Internal Policies, European Parliament.

Egron-Polak, E., & Hudson, R. (2014). Internationalization of Higher Education: Growing expectations, fundamental values. IAU 4th Global Survey: IAU. Summary available at [Accessed 15 April 2017].

Knight, J. (2004). Internationalization remodeled: Definition, approaches, and rationales. Journal of Studies in International Education, 8(1), 5–31.

Knight, J. (2015). International universities: Misunderstandings and emerging models? Journal of Studies in International Education, 19(2), 107–121.

Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (Vereniging Hogescholen) and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). (2018). Internationalisation Agenda for Higher Education.

Sandström, A.-M., & Hudson, R. (2018). The EAIE Barometer: Internationalisation in Europe (2nd edition): The European Association for International Education (EAIE).

Sõderqvist, M. (2002). Internationalisation and its management at higher-education institutions. Applying conceptual, content and discourse analysis. Helsinki, Finland: Helsinki School of Economics.

Yemini, M. (2015). Internationalisation discourse hits the tipping point. Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 19(1), 19–22.

A diagram of the multiple levels at which internationalisation can be profiled/measured

The multiple levels at which internationalisation can be profiled/measured

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Definition of Internationalisation

Why internationalise?